Manchester United have been in red-hot form lately, with Mason Greenwood’s addition to the attack and Paul Pogba’s return to fitness adding a new dimension to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Teenager Greenwood, just 18, opened the scoring in the 3-0 win at Brighton last week, before bagging a brace in the 5-2 win over Bournemouth on Saturday.
World Cup winner Pogba, now seemingly free of the injuries that had wrecked his 2019-20 campaign prior to the Premier League’s coronavirus suspension, is thriving at the heart of midfield alongside Bruno Fernandes – who himself has scored three times in the last week.
Throw in Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both of whom are over the 20 goal mark this season, and in an attacking sense, an FA Cup semi-final and the Europa League quarter-final (they aren’t going to lost a five-goal advantage to LASK in the last 16 second leg) and things look extremely bright for the Red Devils.
But, there is no doubt that, as they seek to close the gap on Liverpool and Manchester City moving forwards, they need to improve.
Jadon Sancho, long the No.1 transfer target, would certainly help, offering something different in a wide area; however, with the effects of coronavirus and the emergence of Greenwood, are they keen to meet Borussia Dortmund’s £100million price tag this summer?
Perhaps more important, certainly when you look at the goals conceded against Eddie Howe’s men, would perhaps be defensive reinforcements.
At full-back they look more than secure, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back impressing since his arrival last summer and Luke Shaw rejuvenated on the opposite flank.
Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire have formed a solid partnership in the centre, and the world’s most expensive defender and United captain is certainly secure; he’s first-choice for the next five-plus years.
The Swede has gradually improved since arriving from Benfica and has done well this season; he’s now clearly first choice ahead of Eric Bailly, whose career has stalled somewhat due to injuries.
But as United look to strengthen and upgrade, certainly he would appear to be in most danger of losing out.
Rio Ferdinand, working for BT at the weekend, made his thoughts clear on the subject: “United need a centre-back with pace.”
Nathan Ake would certainly fit the bill.
The Dutch international has enhanced his reputation on the south coast – despite Bournemouth’s struggles this term – and looks prime for a big move this summer.
Now 25, it’s time for it and he would certainly fit the bill for United and any of the Premier League’s top clubs.
So it was interesting to see Solskjaer seek him out at Old Trafford on Saturday, and even more interesting what he appeared to say.
BT Sport caught the conversation as part of their match coverage.
And despite their subtitles claiming Solskjaer saying “you need a bit of luck with your centre-backs, keep going” ( a weird thing to say, no?), the Norwegian appeared to tell Ake: “We need a left-footed centre-back, so keep going”.
Skipper Maguire prefers to play on the left of the back two, as he does for England also, but bringing in Ake for a fee in the region of £40million – potentially less if the Cherries go down – and sliding him over would no doubt appeal.
It would also, no doubt, be another step forwards as Solskjaer looks to build a side capable of reclaiming former glories; Ake boasts the kind of speed and composure in possession which is a level slightly above United’s current duo, although, while good in the air he isn’t as powerful as Maguire.
United likely won’t be alone should they make a move, with former club Chelsea and Manchester City both having kept tabs on Ake over the past 18 months.
Will United look to beat both to his signature? It’s one to keep an eye on in the coming months.