After some mid week European action, the Premier League was back in action and as usual there’s plenty to talk about.
This morning’s news of Raphael Varane completing a £41 million (A$77 million) switch from Real Madrid to Manchester United is definitely a positive development for the Red Devils’ title hopes in 2021-22.
The 28-year-old centre back will form a partnership with in-form Harry Maguire as United jostle with the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City for a top-four spot in what is shaping up to be one of the most competitive title races in years.
Perhaps with the exception of the John Stones-Ruben Dias combination at the Etihad, this new central defence duo will be the best in the league.
Of course, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the fans will be hoping for more than just a Champions League spot come the end of the season.
A first Premier League crown since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson after the 2012-13 triumph – which was spearheaded by Robin van Persie’s 26 goals – is well overdue in the red half of Manchester and it’s not unreasonable to think this could be the year they finally reign supreme.
United have been building for years and finally have some stability, with club legend Solskjaer recently penning a deal that will see him remain in the Old Trafford dugout until at least the end of 2023-24.
The £73 million (A$146 million) addition of Jadon Sancho is another big boost to the club’s title hopes.
A forward line including the likes of Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani is sure to cause many a problem for defences around the league this season.
But despite all these positive signs, I don’t see Maguire raising the trophy – not this year.
At least, not if Martial and Cavani are the only No.9s United carry into the upcoming campaign.
There is still time to strengthen the side before the transfer window closes, but it’s looking very unlikely either Erling Haaland or Harry Kane will be posing with the famous red jersey.
West Ham and England’s Declan Rice has attracted attention after an impressive Euros campaign with the Three Lions and would be a welcome addition in central midfield, but he would only move the needle so much.
The already completed deals for Varane and Sancho mean the Red Devils are close to contending – I believe they’re capable of pushing the eventual champions into the final weeks of the season.
But without an out-and-out 25-plus-goal scorer like Kane or Haaland, they are not title material.
Last year’s highest goalscorer was Fernandes with 18 – not a terrible number, but not great, either.
But for one thing, those goals came from midfield, and as Soccer Twitter shouted from the rooftops all of last season, 50 per cent came from the penalty spot.
Their next highest scorer? Rashford, who netted 11 times.
Cavani rounds out the podium with ten strikes. A decent contribution from the Uruguayan but it’s hard to see him improving on this figure.
Plenty of reasons to look on the bright side for Manchester United fans, but they are a true No.9 away from the Premier League title.