There was a lot of excitement as Manchester United kicked off their pre-season campaign against Leeds in Oslo. But after 45 minutes of action, there was a familiar feeling – an inability to take their chances.
Amad Diallo made some thrilling runs down the wing and Hannibal Mejbri was leading the charge from midfield. Mason Mount looked fully committed in his first outing for the Red Devils, pressing with intent, winning the ball back and playing incisive through balls.
But when United got into goalscoring territory, there was nobody to finish off their well-crafted moves. Amad’s shooting was wayward, Hannibal hit a shot straight at the goalkeeper and Jadon Sancho could barely make contact with the ball when given a dream cutback in the area from close range.
United ended up winning the game after Erik ten Hag made 11 changes at the break, with French hotshot Noam Emeran scoring a fine goal and Joe Hugill ripping the net with a powerful strike. But neither player looks likely to be in the Dutchman’s squad when United host Wolves in their Premier League opener on August 14.
If any conclusions are to be drawn from the friendly, they should be made from the more experienced 11 players who started the game. And in their 45 minutes on the pitch, there was a distinct lack of real goal threat.
Kane and Osimhen out of their reach
United’s need for a striker is more glaring than ever but one month into the transfer window, there is little sign of any major movement for a centre-forward. The club have already spent half of their budget to sign Mason Mount and need more than £40 million ($52m) to bring in Andre Onana from Inter, which has become a matter of urgency after David de Gea confirmed his departure after 12 years at United.
The four most obvious striking targets have proved too expensive for the club to seriously pursue. Harry Kane was Ten Hag’s top choice but Tottenham are determined not to sell their talisman to a direct rival and he is prohibitively expensive – at least £80m ($104m) for a player who turns 30 at the end of the month.
While Bayern Munich have had two bids for Kane rejected, United have not even made an offer for him, such is their lack of belief in pulling off a deal.
Victor Osimhen is six years younger than the England captain and another player United would covet but he is even pricier than Kane and Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentis recently claimed it would take £170m ($222m) to land the Nigeria striker.
Hojlund talented yet unproven and still costly
Benfica striker Goncalo Ramos and Eintracht Frankfurt hitman Randal Kolo Muani are in the second tier of targets but it would take a bid in the region of £80m ($104m) to sign either player, also effectively putting them out of United’s reach.
Danish striker Rasmus Hojlund has become United’s only realistic striking target but the 20-year-old still looks like a work in progress after scoring nine Serie A goals last season, albeit from just 20 starts.
Hojlund would be an intriguing prospect. He has been likened to Erling Haaland and has been in stunning form for his national side, scoring six goals in his first four matches, including a hat-trick on his debut against Finland.
But Hojlund is also looking unlikely to sign for United as his price keeps rising. The Dane appeared to be a low cost option towards the end of last season but Atalanta reportedly value him at £85m ($111m), a huge amount for a striker with only one campaign in Europe’s top five leagues under his belt.
The Italians may end up lowering their asking price but they are apparently not interested in taking any United players as currency and are only interested in a cash deal.
Martial cannot be relied upon
Signing Hojlund would also load a lot of pressure on the youngster’s shoulders. He would effectively become United’s first-choice centre forward due to Anthony Martial’s fragility and he would be expected to hit the ground running, with no time to bed in and learn under a more experienced striker.
Martial is still a quality forward and proved to be in a different class to Wout Weghorst when he returned from injury in March. But he simply cannot be relied upon to stay fit.
The Frenchman suffered six separate injuries last season, missing 33 matches in total, more than half of United’s games. And he failed to complete 90 minutes on even one occasion.
Martial was absent from the friendly in Oslo as he continues his recovery from the torn hamstring he sustained in United’s final league match of last season against Fulham, which ruled him out of the FA Cup final.
Rashford needs a partner
But the thought of starting the new campaign without signing a striker is unfathomable. Despite finishing third last season, United scored only 58 goals, as many as ninth-place Brentford and fewer than every other side who finished in the top six.
And Marcus Rashford accounted for more than a quarter of those goals. While the 25-year-old can do a job as a centre forward, there’s no doubt that he is at his most dangerous on the left side of the attack and needs a central striker to bounce off.
With United set to make him their highest earning player with a bumper new contract, they need to make sure they get the best out of Rashford, and that means giving him a suitable and reliable partner.
From priority to afterthought
Ten Hag has not hidden his desire to add another striker to his squad, even if he has declined to discuss which names are top of his shopping list.
“Everyone knows, it’s not a secret that over the whole season we have had a shortage of No.9s,” he said in April when asked about United’s interest in signing Kane.
“First, we had the dropout of Ronaldo, then Anthony Martial was often not available, Jadon Sancho was often not available, then you have a shortage of frontline players.
“With fewer players we have to cover many games, so we definitely need players in the frontline who strengthen the squad.”
Back then, buying a striker looked like the club’s priority and fans began debating whether Kane, Osimhen or Ramos was their top choice. Yet right now a frontman looks like an afterthought after landing Mount and making a real effort to get Onana.
Avoid the loan market
But the team’s struggles to convert decent chances in Oslo, which was a recurring theme of last season, should bring a sense of urgency to their bid to bolster their flimsy frontline.
The club has made the mistake before of trying to get a stop-gap striker on loan and while the lack of money available to them might make them tempted to do so again, they should learn from their mistakes.
Edinson Cavani struggled with injuries throughout his two-year loan spell at Old Trafford and Weghorst was never at the level required of a United player. The club need to make a statement in the market and pay what is needed to land a proven scorer who can guarantee at least 20 goals a season. It will be worth it in the long run. — Goal