Four major questions Man Utd must answer this summer to challenge for the title again

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Looking at the burning questions Erik Ten Hag and Manchester United have to find the answers to over the summer transfer window.

Top four, a League Cup trophy and an FA Cup final – as far as the end result goes, Erik Ten Hag’s first season in charge of Manchester United was a pretty substantial success, and there’s finally been a faint whiff of the feel-good factor that largely dissipated after Sir Alex Ferguson finally hung up his hairdryer.

But scratch just a little below the surface and there are still quite a few problems, still some dysfunction in the boardroom and on the pitch, and still quite a few areas where the squad can be substantially upgraded. A few rather humiliating defeats – not least of all the 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Liverpool – make it clear that there is plenty more work for the Dutchman to do. So what’s top of the agenda this summer, and which parts of the house still need to be set in order?

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AFP via Getty Images

The ownership

I’ll confess that I haven’t got round to reading Raymond Chandler’s classic detective novel The Long Goodbye, but at this point I presume it involves hardboiled sleuth Philip Marlowe investigating why the hell the Glazers haven’t sold the club yet. Weeks have turned into months, and one step of bidding has turned into all too many.

Perhaps Qatari billionaire Sheikh Jassim will finally make a bid that satisfies the ever-greedy American owners. Perhaps energy magnate Sir Jim Ratcliffe will eventually take control of the club. Until the wildly protracted process pans out, it’s impossible for United to get their teeth into the transfer business they need to do, difficult to gauge how much spending power they will have for marquee signings, and hard to know what kind of direction things will move in going forward.

The Glazers have largely bled United to line their own pockets during their deeply unpopular tenure, but who knows whether the new owners would be any better. Is Sheikh Jassim the face of a new sportswashing project, or a munificent billionaire looking for a new toy to play with? Can Ratcliffe improve on his somewhat underwhelming involvements in sport so far – which has included the ownership of Ligue 1 side OGC Nice and World Tour cycling team Ineos Grenadiers? Will either owner trust the right people and instal good officers in key positions?

As it stands they could be throwing wads of cash at Kylian Mbappé by the end of July, or the Glazers could still be overseeing a stingy summer overseen by a sporting director with no guarantee that he’ll have a job in a month’s time. Every transfer rumour, every suggestion for squad improvements, ever plan for the future has to be seen through the filter of a club whose broad direction and financial situation are completely unknowable until the sale is finally processed – or until that process is ended for good.

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Has David De Gea still got it?

At the time of writing, Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea has a fortnight left on his contract at Old Trafford – and it’s still unclear whether or not he’ll renew it, and whether or not he’d remain the number one if he did. Rumours have linked United to a string of stoppers from David Raya to André Onana, and we’re still none the wiser as to what Ten Hag wants to do between the sticks.

De Gea has been a fine player for many years, but has plainly been in decline over the last couple of seasons. This season saw him fall below the Premier League’s statistical averages for shot stopping and a whole host of numbers line up to suggest that he’s no longer a top four level player – but does that justify firing £40m in the direction of Raya, for instance? Is De Gea in decline, or is this simply a blip? He was one of the best shot-stoppers in the division not long ago, and is still only 32.

Ten Hag has to come to a determination sooner rather than later – is De Gea still the man he once was, or has he become a liability? And who should be the replacement if one is required?

Wide-man worries

In Jadon Sancho and Antony, United have £155m worth of players who haven’t produced anything like the kind of quality you’d expect from two of the top ten most expensive players in the history of the Premier League. That’s an issue.

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Sancho has struggled under the sheer weight of expectation, while Antony seems to be all fur coat and no knickers – a magician who spends ages showing you that there’s nothing up his sleeve but never gets round to producing the rabbit.

With Marcus Rashford essentially compelled to play centre-forward with no other productive options at that position, United look a little thin in the wide areas of the attacking line – and while the arrival of Mason Mount could help out significantly, we’re getting close to the point where Ten Hag will have to start deciding where to cut losses and where to maintain confidence in players who still have talent to build on, even if they haven’t turned that into goals and assists just yet.

Rashford bore far too much of the weight of the goalscoring responsibility last season (without his brilliant burst of post-World Cup form, United would never have made the Champions League) and they need to get more goals from the rest of the front line. How to do that – and who to do it with – is a question Ten Hag needs to answer decisively if he wants United to become genuine title challengers.

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The centre-back conundrum

How do you solve a problem like Harry? The fabulously-foreheaded centre-back may be paid off to the tune of £10m just to get him out of the side, after Ten Hag failed to find a cure for the split performance disorder that afflicts him when he’s playing for his club rather than his country.

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Elsewhere, Raphaël Varane has been impressive (but also injured), Lisandro Martínez has been even more impressive (and even more injured) and Victor Lindelof is… fine. But between fitness and form, there’s been a certain amount of churn at the heart of the United defence and that’s something that they need to sort out and settle down.

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Kim Min-Jae is likely to be top of the shopping list but the rumour mill has quite a few other teams jumping in with bids, with Bayern Munich the latest to join the line for the Napoli defender. United will need to find one or two alternatives if the Korean doesn’t make the transfer to Old Trafford, because a settled centre-half pairing could make all the difference to a team who had the occasional.

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