The Red Devils’ recent form has unearthed a string of positives within their current squad, negating the need to spend big in the winter window
When Jose Mourinho discussed the January transfer window recently, he was categorical as to whether he needed to rush into the market. “If you ask me if I am waiting for someone to be here on 1 January or if we are chasing some player because we want to have a new player here on 1 January, not at all. I like my squad, I trust my squad.”
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The Manchester United manager has stuck to his guns so far, and while the pursuit of Victor Lindelof has stalled for the moment as Benfica look to get the maximum return possible for their Swedish centre-half, Mourinho arguably had it right back in mid-December. Results over the past month suggest his faith in his players is justified and the Portuguese is making the most of a happy, stable squad.
While there is much talk about exits for the likes of Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mourinho has proved with the use of his squad recently that he has quality and quantity in depth. Having ridden out a difficult spell in the autumn months, the 53-year-old has seen his management of the players at his disposal bear fruit in the past seven matches and United are now right back in the Champions League mix having dropped 10 points off the pace at one stage.
For the first time this season, he has a steady centre-back partnership, even if it is the unlikely pair of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo who have nailed down the starting berths. Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were the regular pairing under Louis van Gaal last season and many were expecting Smalling to partner Eric Bailly for much of this term.
But injuries to both helped open the way for Jones and Rojo, and as a result the loss of Bailly to the Africa Cup of Nations for the next six weeks should not be as keenly felt as it might have been had the most predicted scenario worked out. Instead of Mourinho spending January and February attempting to plug the gap left by the Ivorian, he can continue to select his new favoured defensive partnership unabated.
At full-back Antonio Valencia has been one of United’s best players this season on the right, while Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind have both coped well in the absence of Luke Shaw. While the England left-back’s lack of games is becoming a real worry – he has so far played only 41 games in two-and-a-half years with the club – there is plenty of quality available to Mourinho in Shaw’s stead.
In midfield Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera have solidified their places in the last couple of months after both experienced uncertain times under Van Gaal, and Paul Pogba has grown into the role just ahead of them as the weight of his world record £89.5 million move gradually begins to shift from his shoulders. Options remain open to Mourinho too, with Marouane Fellaini waiting in the wings and Pogba able to start from more than one position.
The attacking midfield line behind 18-goal revelation Zlatan Ibrahimovic is crammed full of alternatives, with Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and the largely-forgotten Wayne Rooney all jostling for position. And even if Ibrahimovic were to be struck down by injury, Rashford, Rooney and Martial would all be ready and willing to step into his spot.
Earlier in the campaign Mourinho was facing claims that he had no idea of his best team, but now having found it he still has more than enough alternatives. His squad is thriving in the face of the task they have left themselves in pegging back the top five clubs, and United look as confident and comfortable in their make-up as at any time since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Lindelof could still come in during January despite his being rested for the recent Taca da Liga fixtures not being a huge concern to Benfica fans who are used to the competition being used to rotate the squad. If the Lisbon club eventually stop trying to screw Swedish side Vasteras out of their £8m-plus sell-on clause and accept a bid from United, the 22-year-old may well be at Old Trafford before the month is over.
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But if Benfica continue to play games, United will not be forced into a panic buy elsewhere thanks to a run of form which has not only seen them gain ground in the Premier League standings but also identify the many strengths of their current squad.
Mourinho is in the privileged position of wanting to make changes, but not having to.