The saga is over. Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United have officially parted ways.
Surprised? Surprise? No, me neither. This breakup had been coming since the summer and while both parties followed the relationship protocol of “give it one last try,” Ronaldo’s most recent antics meant the situation had become untenable.
We could work for the sentimentality, though Manchester United can now move on from the drama swirling around Old Trafford. Football moves very quickly and Erik ten Hag must consider how he will strengthen his attacking options when Premier League football returns next month.
Here, The Athletic looks at some of the key options they should consider.
The first option is to duplicate from within.
United’s wide attacking options are plentiful, with Antony locking down the right-back spot, Jadon Sancho capable of playing down both flanks and Alejandro Garnacho showing exciting promise when he’s entered the pitch.
This would mean a more regular center forward role for Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial.
However, Rashford is most potent when coming from a wide position, with his skill set stifled in central spaces. This is backed up by the numbers, where Rashford’s unpenalty goals from the left (0.43 per 90) far exceed his goal output as a centre-forward (0.24 per 90).
For Martial, the harsh reality is that he cannot be trusted to lead the line consistently. Fitness issues have meant he hasn’t played more than 75 percent of league minutes since 2019-20, so while he’s shown great finishing ability in fits and starts, you can’t trust him for a season.
This signals that reinforcements are needed and while United’s need for a striker has been one of the worst-kept secrets since the summer, they will have to buy in an unforgiving January market. Starting with the option to…
The man everyone is talking about. Gakpo has been on the radar of many clubs since last season, but his offensive performance seems to have gone up another level for PSV Eindhoven this season. Nine goals and 12 assists in his first 14 Eredivisie games is frightening form – he is a dual attacking threat who can score and create.
The ‘difficulty’ for United is that Gakpo plays almost exclusively as a left-back in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 for PSV, being the man who gets the ball into areas attack and is so high. -uses the player in the volume of shots on his side.
Whether or not United want to bring in another player whose best work is on display from wide is another story.
That’s not to say that Gakpo couldn’t evolve into a more powerful central presence. He is capable of playing through the forward line and operated behind his country’s front two this week, scoring the Netherlands’ first World Cup goal against Senegal.
Gakpo revealed that he spoke to Ten Hag “a few times” in the summer and that he was on the verge of a move to United at the time. If they came looking for him again, could it be too hard to turn him down a second time?
AC Milan’s Rafael Leao is one of the most outstanding properties in world football. The reigning Serie A MVP was Milan’s top scorer (11) and assist (10) last season and has gone up another level this campaign considering his goals per 90 minutes contribution.
One of Leao’s main strengths is his ability to run with the ball. His 4.9 dribbles per 90 are in the top 15% of midfielders or attacking full-backs in Serie A this season, highlighting how intent he is on weaving his way into dangerous areas to shoot or to create.
When looking at Leao’s share of shot-making actions, the two offensive actions that lead directly to a shot, such as a pass, dribble, or foul, 22 percent of those actions stem from his attributes of dribbling
Like Gakpo, Leao is a left back and a move to Old Trafford would still not fill the vacant primary void in the center forward area. A €150m (£129m; $155.5m) buyout clause is another issue, but at just 23, Leao could be a fantastic long-term investment as one of the players attack more threats around.
Whether a move would meet the required needs of both parties is another question.
If United were eyeing a number 9 with Premier League experience, then a move for Ivan Toney would not be a bad option.
Toney’s seven Premier League goals without a penalty for Brentford this season already matches his tally for the whole of last season. Some might say he hasn’t proven to be the most prolific striker on the market, but anyone familiar with Toney’s game understands that it’s not just about his scoring.
Toney’s skill set allows him to hold the ball, use his strength and bring others into play, which would be a great fit for Ten Hag’s style considering his last striker during his time at Ajax’s Sebastien Haller enjoyed linking up with his wide. forwards and get into lucrative areas to score, with an average shot distance of just 10.1 meters from goal in his last season in Amsterdam.
Simply put, Toney could thrive in a Ten Hag system. Not to mention the defensive work Toney also does with his current club, the 26-year-old is worth keeping an eye on.
Schick’s stock has probably dipped a bit since last season, the most prolific of his career with 24 goals for Bayer Leverkusen. Their rate of exactly one penalty-free goal per 90 minutes was not bettered by anyone in Europe’s top five leagues in 2021-22.
Of course, you can see below that Schick experienced a purple patch where he scored well above expectations last season, but the Czech forward was still the most prolific man.
This season, Schick’s production has fallen in a similar fashion to his team’s performances as Leverkusen find themselves in the bottom half of the Bundesliga. Two goals in 11 league games brings his pace closer to a goal every five games, but could this be the perfect time to reward him away?
Schick may not fit the mold of a centre-forward who is often involved in his team’s formation, but there is little doubt that he is a penalty-kick striker who is capable of picking up high-quality areas quickly. take a shot
Schick recently signed a contract extension through 2027, so he may not be available at a reduced price. However, United could do a lot worse than test Leverkusen’s mettle to keep hold of their star striker.
The best of the rest
We could consider Victor Osimhen, we could talk about Dusan Vlahovic; we could even kick Kylian Mbappe’s name if we really wanted to.
However, the reality is that January transfer windows can be tricky to trade and get value in the market. However, there could be a cry for a return for his old man Memphis Depaynow in Barcelona?
The Dutch forward’s contract runs out at the end of the season, which could represent a perfect time to land a discount deal. However, with similar injury problems to Martial in recent seasons, there is a feeling that Depay would not be able to solve United’s striker problem.
Elsewhere, why not discuss the prospect of another clinical striker right now? Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting. He may be 33, but the Cameroon striker is very efficient with the opportunities he hasscoring 10 goals in 900 minutes of Bundesliga football with Bayern Munich.
Give him a chance and he will often score. Choupo-Moting is an old-fashioned number 9; could he be the answer for United in the short term?
Finally, we come to Benjamin Sesco — far from the “best of the rest” as one of the most exciting and promising No. 9s in European football. Currently plying his trade in the Austrian Bundesliga with Red Bull Salzburg, the 19-year-old has signed a pre-contract agreement to move to sister club RB Leipzig in the summer.
However, if United are willing to blow Leipzig out of the water with an astronomical fee, there may be even more to do with Sesko’s moves in the coming months.
Whatever happens, the selling clubs know that United are not able to negotiate from a position of strength given the publicity surrounding their outgoing striker. Their cards are on the table, but they should still have a strong hand in the January transfer window.
(Top photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
Source: Manchester United need to replace Cristiano Ronaldo – these are their options