Manchester United have been drawn against Barcelona in the Europa League knockout play-off round and it promises to be one of the club’s toughest challenges this season.
The Red Devils missed out on top spot in Group E to Real Sociedad last week. As a result, they will now be facing Barcelona in the play-off round rather than direct qualification to the round of 16.
Similar to United, the Spanish giants are going through transition under manager Xavi Hernandez, but they are certainly ahead at the moment, considering they are top of La Liga.
With an in-form Robert Lewandowski up front, the club are a different proposition to face unlike last season. United must strengthen in January in order to compete with them.
Meanwhile, a top-four Premier League finish is far from a formality. With Manchester City and Arsenal flying high, there could be just two Champions League places to challenge for.
United face competition from not only Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United, but also from Chelsea and Liverpool, who will no doubt stitch a winning run at some point.
Taking the Barcelona ties and the top-four race into regard, here are three signings that Manchester United must make during the January transfer window.
Jonathan David – Lille
United’s prime concern has been the lack of sufficient goals. They have netted 18 from 13 league games this term. In comparison, 14th-placed Leicester City have scored 23 times.
Marcus Rashford has done fairly well when played as the main striker, but the club need more quality up front with Cristiano Ronaldo’s regression and Anthony Martial being often injured.
In our view, David would be a superb acquisition this winter. The Canadian star has nine goals and three assists from just 14 outings and looks set to feature for his country at the World Cup.
A couple of stand-out displays at the tournament could further enhance his reputation. He is valued at €45 million by Transfermarkt but the main question is whether United can seal a deal.
Lille tend to wait until the end of the season to sanction high-profile exits. They did so with Newcastle for Sven Botman. The Red Devils will need to do plenty of convincing to land him in January.
Jeremie Frimpong – Bayer Leverkusen
Since the start of this season, Diogo Dalot has started every game from the right-back position for United. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has not got a sniff with just four minutes of competitive football.
It is quite clear that the Portuguese is the number one choice for the defensive role and he has certainly proved worthy with his performances. However, he should not be allowed to rest on his laurels.
Dalot has become an undroppable figure with barely any competition and United must address this issue in January. The 23-year-old could also be hampered by fatigue as the season progresses.
Frimpong would be an ideal competitor for Dalot amid his impressive progress at Leverkusen. He has five goals and three assists from just 19 appearances for the Bundesliga outfit this term.
It has been reported that he fits into the profile of manager Erik ten Hag but United won’t get him for cheap. He is valued at €25m by Transfermarkt but Leverkusen could easily demand double the fee.
Enzo Fernandez – Benfica
United were keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old midfielder in May. It was widely claimed that they could sign him, but he ended up joining Benfica from River Plate in a deal worth €12m.
The Argentine has since been a revelation for the Portuguese outfit, registering three goals and four assists from 22 outings. More than his goal contributions, he has caught the eye with his concentration.
Fernandez has averaged nearly 90 per cent of successful passes this term with nearly two tackles and one interception per game. His reputation has gone to another stretch after starring versus PSG in Europe.
As a result, Sport now claim that he is valued over €50m and could be available for the same figure in January. United missed the trick of signing him for a bargain fee but have the chance to make amends.
Considering his performances at such a tender age, Fernandez has the hallmarks of becoming a world-class player in future. United won’t be alone in the pursuit with Barcelona apparently interested too.
Stats from Transfermarkt.com and WhoScored.com