Several times throughout the past season, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal lamented his side’s lack of a pacey right-sided attacker.
The veteran Dutch coach, despite spending around £250m on incomings during his time at Old Trafford, has been unable to recruit a suitable right-winger. It may be argued that, if used correctly, Argentinian superstar Ángel di María would have been a perfect fit to fulfil this role during his ill-fated season in Manchester – particularly as di María has excelled on the right of Paris Saint Germain’s front three since his £44m summer switch.
But alas, that wasn’t to be; through a combination of mismanagement and a lack of commitment on the player’s part, the di María experiment fell flat on its face.
Di María’s departure has seen Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard operate on United’s right-wing, both with limited success.
Mata, lacking the pace and energy of a traditional winger, is much better suited to playing centrally. And although Lingard has demonstrated a commendable work-rate, and no shortage of pace, the England under-21 international does not have the requisite technical ability to be considered a long-term solution to the Red Devils’ right-sided problem.
After a season which has seen United fall short of their primary targets, and unable to secure Champions League football for next term, van Gaal’s future at the club is uncertain. Rumours that the former Ajax boss will imminently be replaced by José Mourinho are gathering pace by the day.
But whoever is in charge at Old Trafford over the summer, the identification and introduction of a right-sided attacking player will be high up on their to-do list once the transfer window opens. Here are three players who would be a good fit.
Schalke 04’s 20-year-old winger Leroy Sané is destined for the top. Blessed with electric pace and a maturity beyond his tender years, the Germany international is set to take this summer’s European Championship by storm.
The son of a former Senegalese international footballer, Sané has the pedigree of one of Europe’s finest young talents. Already a key player for Schalke, the Essen-born speedster has notched nine goals in all competitions in the season just passed, and registered seven assists.
Capable of playing on either wing, or centrally as a number 10, Sané has been most effective when deployed on the right-side of Die Königsblauen’s attack.
United reportedly scouted Sané during the last game of the Bundesliga season, a 4-1 victory over Hoffenheim in which he scored.
If the Red Devils are to make a move for the coveted youngster, they will have to fight off local rivals Manchester City. The Citizens hold a long-standing interest in Sané and are expected to make an offer in excess of £30m for the youngster’s services.
Despite only having one full international cap to his name, Sané has been selected in Joachim Löwe’s provisional 27-man Germany squad for Euro 2016. A few impressive performances in France could lead to the Schalke player’s value sky-rocketing, so any suitor would be wise to move quickly and tie Sané down before the tournament begins.
Another man set to play a key role for his country at Euro 2016 is Portugal’s Rafa Silva. The 23-year-old Braga winger has had an outstanding season at club level, and is now hoping to add to his six international caps in France this summer.
Netting 12 goals in all competitions and laying on four assists, Silva helped Braga finish fourth in the Liga NOS, and reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League before being eliminated by Shakhtar Donetsk.
Lightning-quick over short distances and a strong dribbler, Silva also has the knack of making perfectly timed off-the-ball runs in behind the opposing defence. A confident finisher with a good first-touch, Silva’s ability to find space and score goals in reminiscent of Pedro in his FC Barcelona prime.
United scouts were in attendance at the Estádio Municipal several times last season to cast their eye over Silva, with the Old Trafford club believed to be weighing up a £12m offer.
Sané is not the only 20-year-old winger to have caught the eye in the Bundesliga recently. Bayer Leverkusen’s Julian Brandt has been in outstanding form over the last few months, and he too has been selected as part of Germany’s provisional Euro 2016 squad.
In an extraordinary run between 20 March and 30 April 2016, Brandt became the first player since Dieter Müller in 1976 to score in six consecutive Bundesliga games. That brought Brandt’s goal tally to 11 in all competition, along with three assists.
Manager Roger Schmidt tends to deploy Brandt on the left wing for Leverkusen, but the Bremen-born youngster regularly swaps positions with right-winger Karim Bellerabi throughout matches, as Brandt is confident with both feet.
Brandt is an excellent dribbler with exceptionally quick feet, allowing him to wriggle his way out of tight situations to create space in a way which other player wouldn’t deem possible. Having evidently developed his finishing in recent months, Brandt appears to have the coolness of a seasoned veteran, even though he only has 65 Bundesliga appearances to his name.
Brandt has yet to make his full international debut for Die Mannschaft despite eight appearances at under-21 level. This did not deter Löwe from selecting Leverkusen’s rising star as part of his provisional Germany squad though, with his end of season form being simply too good to ignore