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What do Manchester United need to do to have the perfect January?

What do Manchester United need to do to have the perfect January?

All in all, it has been an odd first half of the season for Manchester United.

After winning both the EFL Cup and the Europa League in 2016-17, securing Champions League qualification in the process, and after tying down the services of forward Romelu Lukaku and midfielder Nemanja Matic during the summer, expectations were high ahead of the new season.

Jose Mourinho’s side started the campaign like a runaway train, winning six of their opening seven fixtures and scoring 21 goals in the process to set the pace with Manchester City at the top.

Yet things have gradually began to unravel since their 0-0 draw at Anfield in mid-October, losing twice to Huddersfield Town and Chelsea before coming unstuck against their bitter city rivals Manchester City to leave clear daylight between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s side in the table.

The recent festive period left very little to cheer about either, with three consecutive draws against Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton allowing Chelsea, Liverpool and the chasing pack to gradually draw closer, and those pre-season hopes of a title challenge are merely a distant memory.

Yet, whilst the Premier League title may be slipping out of United’s reach, there is still plenty of silverware up for grabs in the form of the FA Cup and Champions League and January could be an important time at Old Trafford.

The red half of Manchester has quite the track record when it comes to mid-season additions, with the likes of Andy Cole, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Juan Mata all making the switch in the transfer window in years gone by, and a signing of a similar ilk could provide a much-needed boost.

There certainly won’t be wholesale changes for Mourinho, that’s for sure.

The spine of the Manchester United side is taking place nicely through David de Gea, Eric Bailly, Matic, Paul Pogba and Lukaku, and slowly but surely he’s starting to craft a well-balanced team.

Nonetheless, there is a spark missing in the wide areas, and despite having Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jesse Lingard on the books they’re lacking a world-class winger that can consistently provide Lukaku with service inside the penalty area.

It was hoped that Mkhitaryan’s arrival from Borussia Dortmund in 2016 would add this desired creativity and inventiveness in front of goal but his time at Old Trafford hasn’t materialised as hoped, and the glimpses of his peak form from his Bundesliga days have been few and far between.

It is a frustrating case for Mourinho as, at the start of the season, there were few Premier League players as in-form as Mkhitaryan, scoring once and assisting five times in the opening six matches.

His downfall has been as dramatic as it has been publicised, and after cutting words from the Manchester United boss in recent months his performances on the pitch have been utterly abject.

With BBC Sport reporting last month that former side Dortmund are considering buying him back, it is a likely story that this move will be sanctioned to free up funds for a proven replacement winger.

In the cases of both Martial and Rashford, neither are natural wingers, and it’s shown at times.

Both are more accustomed – and more comfortable – playing in a striking role alongside Lukaku, a role which Martial has particularly impressed in of late, whilst Lingard has come out of almost nowhere over the Christmas period to stake his claim as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers.

United’s Premier League rivals have shown the importance of having an out-and-out winger in the ranks – just look at Mohamed Salah at Liverpool or Leroy Sane at Manchester City – and boss Mourinho knows that too, hence why he chased after Inter Milan wide-man Ivan Perisic in summer.

The Croatian international was outlined as one of four primary targets for United over the summer window yet he ended up being the one that got away, signing a five-year extension at the San Siro to end hopes of a move to the Premier League.

As such, Mourinho has had a few months to think of an alternative and Sky Sports have been reporting over the past week that Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura is now on his January wish list.

The 25-year-old has been shunned in France since the marquee arrivals of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, and it seems that he’s in desperate need of a move away to keep his career from stalling.

Another potential option could come in the form of Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who looks destined to finally get his move away at some point in 2018. Unlike the potential risk in buying Lucas, the Algerian is a man that knows the Premier League inside and out and has impressed.

Everyone knows that Mahrez is a player that loves nothing more than to run at people and drive at defences, and his ability to hug the touchline and cross the ball would be a huge positive for Lukaku.

A more outside bet comes in the form of young Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, who, in a recent interview with German outlet Bild, revealed he has his sights set on a move to the Premier League one day – although a move for him would be a gamble for half-way through a season with matches coming thick and fast.

With all things considered, it seems like Lucas is the most probable option for now, though.

Whilst most of the talk will be about who may potentially come in at Old Trafford, this season has shown that there is a lot of deadwood in the squad that should be let go over the transfer window.

Players like Daley Blind and Matteo Darmian are ones that have struggled to ever get a foothold under Mourinho – or under Louis van Gaal – and their days at the club are now arguably numbered.

Should they leave then it is not out of the question that Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be re-called early from his loan spell at Crystal Palace to act as defensive cover – which based on United’s defensive luck this season will be needed – as he will be well-equipped after receiving regular first-team football at Selhurst Park under Roy Hodgson.

In addition, the current situations of both Mkhitaryan and Marouane Fellaini need to be sorted out, with Fellaini’s contract negotiations dragging on.

Allowing these four players to leave would free up those necessary funds to invest into an attacking wide-man, and if the summer is anything to go by then Mourinho won’t stop working until it is a done deal.

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