After their elimination from the knockout stages of the Champions League at the hands of Atletico Madrid, Manchester United know that they will now go at least five seasons without silverware. It is the club’s longest trophy drought since 1983.
After finishing second in the Premier League last year, a serious title challenge was expected. The heralded ‘cultural reset’ under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was nearing its third anniversary and approaching the point where it was supposed to bear fruit.
Instead, it might be time to hit that reset button again. As several players’ contracts come to an end, others are left disappointed by their lack of playing time and some have just reached the natural end of their time at Old Trafford.
Amid suggestions this week that their home of the past 112 years could be torn down and rebuilt from scratch, the same may have to happen with a large, lopsided squad that has been badly put back together. And just like Old Trafford, it’s not just about fixing a leaky roof.
It’s not the first time United have demanded an audit of their squad during the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and it’s unlikely to be the last either. But with a new permanent manager to be appointed, the coming summer is arguably the most important since Ferguson’s departure and must go well.
David de Gea
Keep. De Gea isn’t immune to periods of poor form and isn’t entirely comfortable on his feet, but he’s also been a brilliant servant during his 11-year spell at the club and the one of their best players this season. At some point United will have to sort out their long-term goalkeeping situation, but this summer will bring other priorities.
To sell. Henderson is too good a goalkeeper to be a second choice, although that’s what he’s been reduced to by De Gea’s form. Solskjaer and Rangnick kept him on the bench. Last summer should have seen a parting of ways rather than a heavy new contract, although at least there should be suitors for the 25-year-old.
Keep. A veteran goalkeeper with one appearance to his name all season, Heaton can become second choice if needed on Henderson’s likely departure. Lee Grant provides additional cover as a fourth pick and combines his playing role with studying his coaching badges.
Keep. Maguire is a lightning rod for criticism – and much of that criticism is unfair – but there’s no denying he’s struggled all season. The ironic cheers of his replacement on Tuesday night were a new low. The United captain still has something to offer but, given everything, his next manager might decide to pass the armband on to someone else.
Keep. United’s worst defeats – 5-0 to Liverpool, 4-1 to Watford, 4-1 in the derby – have coincided with Varane’s absence. These absences are always a problem. Availability is key and the World Cup winner’s injury record was a factor in his cut-price £36m transfer from Real Madrid. But when he played, he usually performed.
Keep. Lindelof has endured a difficult season off the pitch so far with more good performances than bad despite losing his starting status. During a window where the focus will be on other areas of the pitch, he is a third- or fourth-choice centre-back. With his current contract running until 2025, a decision on his future need not be imminent.
To sell. Like Henderson, Bailly signed a new contract last season when it was not entirely clear where his minutes would come from. The Ivory Coast international has all the trappings of an elite centre-back, but questionable decision-making and a poor injury record mean any chance of a sustained run in the starting line-up was long gone.
Release. Jones’ return to the starting lineup at the start of the year was one of the few highlights of the season and he didn’t discredit himself one bit. Yet after the best part of two years without any regular football and no path back to a starting point, it’s finally time to part ways and wish one of the team’s few title winners all the best. for the future.