07 Dec, 18:00
Manchester United have given Jose Mourinho the green light for important mid-season improvements to a squad competing on four fronts for silverware.
A January transfer budget “in the region of €90million” is an endorsement of the managers' achievement in leading United to two major trophies in his first season at the club and United’s strongest start to an English Premier League campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
The Old Trafford board’s support for Mourinho’s efforts to prevent a Manchester City squad enriched by unprecedented spending on transfer fees and salaries from taking the title is also seen as an indication that it will extend the 54-year-old’s contract as manager.
Discussions are understood to have taken place between the club and Mourinho’s agent on renewing a deal that expires in 2019.
Of more importance to the Portuguese coach is accelerating the structural improvement of a squad that enters this weekend’s Manchester derby eight points behind City despite scoring 35 times in 15 Premier League fixtures and posting the division’s best defensive record.
Mourinho is conscious that Pep Guardiola is pushing City to spend in January on defensive reinforcements with the second bid for Alexis Sanchez also under consideration.
Mourinho has identified three principal weak points in his current squad: left back, winger and central midfield.
No one has managed to consistently hold down a position on the left side of United’s defence since the club lost Patrice Evra to Juventus in 2014; and current first-choice, the 32-year-old Ashley Young, is out of contract at the end of this season.
The group is also short of a specialist winger with pace. Mourinho usually divides starting duties on the left side of his attack between Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, both right-footed attackers whose preference is for a more central role. Adding a left-footed wideman would increase the team’s tactical options.
Injuries and medical problems suffered by Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick have significantly constrained Mourinho’s midfield strategy on multiple occasions this season, and are again a critical factor as the manager prepares tactics for the derby.