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Manchester Evening News
Manchester Evening News
Isaac Johnson

Cristiano Ronaldo has handed Erik ten Hag tough January transfer window decision at Manchester United

Cristiano Ronaldo’s abrupt exit was inevitable and good for all parties. The split may have looked amicable between club and player, perhaps less so between striker and his manager.

There was no way back for him at Old Trafford following his "no respect" comments on Erik ten Hag, which was ultimately what Ronaldo wanted. It’s also solved a problem for Ten Hag, who had to pander to his superstar status despite his presence clearly stunting the team.

But while that cloud has gone, the Reds boss faces a tough choice in January with limited funds available. It’s widely thought that the board will not hand Ten Hag vast amounts in the new year after spending £225m on four signings over the summer.

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Therefore, winter transfer forays may be somewhat ring-fenced. The manager must decide on his priority this January. Love or loathe Ronaldo’s exit, United are left worrying thin in forward options.

Anthony Martial has already suffered three separate injuries this season and top scorer Marcus Rashford - who has eight goals - is yet to score when leading the line this season.

But at the same time, cover at right-back is needed. The lack of depth in the position has been the elephant in the room this campaign and it came into full sight when Diogo Dalot was suspended for the 2-1 win over Fulham just before the World Cup break.

Dalot had played every single game for United up to that point and has grown immensely under Ten Hag, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka not favoured by the Dutchman. Tyrell Malacia filled in and didn’t look overly comfortable.

He was caught high up the pitch for Fulham’s goal and was outfoxed by the ageing Willian a handful of times. Ten Hag branded his performance “great” but that may have been more of an attempt to boost his confidence than accurate assessment.

That said, he may feel that the full-back can do a good enough job at right-back to cover Dalot when he is unavailable. If so, he may prioritise a long-term striker in January.

It’s clear the team needs an attacker who can stay for the long run and fire United back to the top table again. The crossroads he faces is whether to lump all of January's budget on a marquee striker or spend a limited amount on a temporary fix before going for the big guns with a heavier wallet in the summer.

If a low-cost option becomes available he may well take the punt and then instead focus on bringing in a solid back-up for Dalot. But if such an option is not available then he must decide whether to go all in or wait for the summer.

The United hierarchy are keen for the summer to be the next period for a big recruitment drive. And so, if his faith in Malacia as cover for right-back isn’t in fact that "great", he may instead use his winter allowance to purchase a defender who can challenge Dalot for his spot, and get a makeshift striker who will cost less but also score less.

It’s worth noting that Ten Hag could well bring in both a right-back and a striker in January. The point is, Ronaldo’s exit means he must decide which area needs the strongest focus for reinforcement in the quest for top four.


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