It became glaringly obvious early on this season that Manchester United were lacking quality and depth in midfield.
As the winter transfer window gradually ticked away it became a real possibility that United wouldn’t complete any signings to address the long-standing issue.
But with just a few days of the window remaining United finally announced the signing of Sporting playmaker Bruno Fernandes after weeks of negotiations.
The Portugal international will provide Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side with quality on the ball and a creative spark from central midfield that his side has been devoid of this campaign.
Should Fernandes be able to replicate his electric form in the Premier League he could revive United’s chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League.
There have been flashes of brilliance from the Old Trafford club this term, but they have been at least one world-class player short of establishing themselves as one of the top four sides in the division – an issue Fernandes could resolve.
Qualification for Europe’s elite competition could kickstart a chain of events that will leave Solskjaer with some difficult decisions to make.
Potential summer signings
United were heavily linked with James Maddison, Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho in the summer but without the lure of Champions League football and a need to invest in other areas of the playing squad, no big-money moves ever materialised.
But should Fernandes fire United to fourth place, or to another Europa League title, it will renew that interest with an added sense that the transfers could realistically happen.
Borussia Dortmund’s Sancho could be tempted by a return to England, while Maddison and Grealish’s loyalty to their respective teams will be tested with a club of United’s stature lurking.
With central and right midfield the two areas most in need of improvement at United, it could be that the majority of Solskjaer’s budget in the summer is spent on bringing Sancho and one of Maddison or Grealish to the club – providing he has the added enticement of Champions League football.
Should this be the case, United’s squad will look a whole lot different to how it does currently – Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay will all be fit, and like Fernandes and the two potential signings they will be expecting regular football.
If Solskjaer is to persist with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, he will be unable to accommodate all of his returning and incoming talent.
The midfield duo will almost certainly include Pogba if he remains at the club, meaning a more defensive midfielder like McTominay will be needed alongside him.
That leaves Fernandes competing with either Maddison or Grealish for the number ten spot – strength in depth is a necessity for a top club, but are any of those three players going to be satisfied with a spot on the bench after making a big-money switch to United?
Sancho would no doubt nail down the right-wing position if he joined, but that would push promising youngster Mason Greenwood further down the pecking order – Anthony Martial is favoured over the academy graduate down the middle and Solskjaer has openly spoken about his desire to bring another striker to United, potentially restricting Greenwood’s chances even further.
For how long will player of Greenwood’s ability be content with substitute appearances?
Some may argue that a deal for Maddison or Grealish will only be struck if rumours of a Pogba departure in the summer come to fruition – but with Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata’s long-term futures at the club uncertain, another quality midfield signing will surely be needed; Lille’s Boubakary Soumare has been heavily linked this month.
Regardless of whether Pogba leaves or not, Solskjaer could be tasked with accommodating and satisfying up to four midfield signings.
McTominay was in excellent form prior to his injury, and with Fred also justifying his hefty transfer fee with some standout performances, someone is going to disappointed with warming the bench next season – whether that be one of United’s better performers from this campaign, or one of the new boys.
While it will be a difficult problem for Solskjaer to solve, having an abundance quality options to select from isn’t something United have become accustomed to in recent years.
To quote a footballing cliché; ‘it’s a very nice problem for a manager to have’.