When Manchester United confirmed that they had reached an agreement to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford at 4:51pm on Friday, August 27 last summer, a quick glance at social media made you realise just how special a moment it was.
Just hours after being set to join City, Ronaldo was on the cusp of sealing a fairytale homecoming. It was a day no United supporter, or journalist covering the club, will ever forget. It was head-spinning few hours and in the words of Martin Tyler, I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.
Despite signing Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho earlier in the window, Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was the headline moment. He instantly became the signing of the summer and all was rosy in United’s garden.
Now, following Saturday’s defeat to Everton, United’s garden is overgrown with weeds and in a state you’d expect to find it in as winter takes hold, not as Easter weekend looms. The Reds’ latest embarrassment has all but ended their already faint Champions League hopes for next season.
Whilst the mathematics and statistics clearly show that United can still finish in the top-four, there is as much chance of it happening as Paul Pogba extending his contract beyond June 30. It’s over.
Although United still have a greater chance of finishing in a Europa League or Europa Conference League berth, and that’s if they can stomach that, all eyes are already on the summer and the expected arrival of Erik ten Hag. The size of the challenge awaiting the Dutchman is an enormous one and it is impossible to say just how many changes need to be made to the squad.
Considering United have now shipped 42 goals in the Premier League this season, meaning they are just two short of equalling last season’s overall total with seven games left to play, you would argue that strengthening the defence, alongside sourcing a new defensive-midfielder, should be their top priority. But their recent performances against Leicester City and Everton suggest that they should be using just as much energy into sourcing a new goal-getter-in-chief.
United have scored a paltry one goal in their last two games against two teams that have conceded a combined total 100 goals in the Premier League this season. When you remember that United shaped their transfer business last summer to accommodate the plan of pushing for the Premier League title, it is a stark reminder of just how far away they are.
Although they threatened early on against Everton – twice through Marcus Rashford – United carried little threat over the course of the match. They were starved of creativity and when the chances did come their way, you got the sense that a lack of confidence was behind their wastefulness.
It is why signing a new striker has to be towards the top of United’s to-do list this summer. Yes, Ronaldo has proven that he knows his way to goal, plundering 18 goals this season, but he is now at the age of 37 and it remains a mystery what the future could hold for him.
Rangnick detailed United’s need to sign a new, younger striker back in February, insisting it was “obvious.” In recent weeks, it has become more and more obvious, highlighted by their tally of six goals in their last seven games in all competitions. Two of those games have been against sides that have flirted with relegation all season long, making it even more alarming.
“This is obvious,” Rangnick said two months ago, answering a question on if the club needed a “younger” striker in the squad. “Edinson’s [Cavani] contract is running out in the summer, and the club needs the best possible centre-forward.
“This is an obvious one. I think everyone is aware of that.”
You can argue that United have struggled to create chances in recent matches, but when the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho are at full tilt it is hard to imagine them continuing to struggle to create opportunities. It is why they need a fresh face at the top end of the pitch to spearhead what they are trying to achieve and make them successful again.
The addition of a striker, of course, is not going to solve all of their issues, and nobody is saying it would. But it would, if they selected the correct option, hopefully, ease the burden on the defence.
A club of United’s size should be scoring goals by the lorry load. They were once the entertainers of the English game and for even the most spirited and upbeat United supporter it is now becoming a chore to watch them.
They need fresh options and that needs to start from the front. Rangnick recognised it several weeks ago and United are only strengthening his argument.