Wes Brown on Manchester United transfers, top four and the season ahead
We had a chat with former Manchester United and England defender Wes Brown to tackle all things United ahead of the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford this weekend.
Speaking to us ahead of his Manchester United versus Manchester City Ladbrokes 5-A-Side selection, Brown discussed how his boyhood club have succeeded in the transfer window and what they need to do to be back challenging at the top of the Premier League table.
On potential Man United signings
“I hope Ole brings someone in, but I don’t know who! The more the merrier, for me. I just always think in January it’s more difficult than you think.
“There could be some players who are in the last year of their contract who you might be able to get, but naturally the best players are all signed up so it doesn’t really happen, unless you stumble across a player who has had a fall out with his manager.
“It’d be good to bring in a couple of younger kids from the Championship – I’d love to see those kind of players coming in to United and training with the first team; seeing if they can get a place in the team.
“I thought at one point in the summer that Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and James Maddison were all coming to United. I was hoping at least one of Sancho or Grealish would join. I couldn’t tell you what goes on in negotiations but for whatever reason neither happened in the end. That means you’ve just got to deal with the players you have got.
“They’re two young lads who have got so much ability and have done really well for their individual teams; they’re exactly the sort of players a club like Man United should be looking to add to their squad.
“If I was pressed, I’d probably lean more towards Sancho than Grealish just because of his age. But I’m telling you, Grealish, for me, is one special individual. I’m not going to say he carries Aston Villa but he takes a lot of the responsibilities on his shoulders.
“He’s got so much ability, and he’s always looking to make things happen. He had his doubters who questioned whether or not he’d be able to do it in the Premier League but he’s been brilliant, and he’s made the England squad already this season. He’s a different sort of player.
“The way he carries himself on the pitch, he’s got his socks pulled right down; I love it. He’s got his own identity. He’s just one of those players that you hate playing against. You might think you’ve had a good game against him and then he just pulls something magical off. That’s everything a Man United player should have.”
On selling Romelu Lukaku
“Man United have missed someone in that position which Edinson Cavani has filled. Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are a little bit different to that typical number nine role.
“Martial did a good job when (Romelu) Lukaku left, and if you ask Martial he’ll probably tell you he liked coming inside and playing through the middle. But after a while he slowed down a bit, so bringing someone like Cavani in has been great.
“It’s always good to have someone who will get into those goalscoring opportunities, into the six-yard box. I always call it the Ruud van Nistelrooy area of the pitch. Just being in the right place at the right time, causing defenders all sorts of problems. Naturally I think Cavani does that.
“United probably tried to replace Lukaku at the time and just couldn’t get the right man in. But obviously he wasn’t in the plans. Ole has come in and if you’re not in the manager’s plans then there’s not really a lot you can do. It’s a horrible position to be in. It’s one I’ve been in before.”
On Man United’s best midfield three
“Fred has been brilliant this season. He does what I call the ‘dirty work’. He gets the ball back a lot so he has to be playing. The other two for me, I’ve got to say, would be Donny Van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes. I loved it when those two played together.
“They were playing some really nice stuff, always looking forward and trying to make opportunities. I think sometimes when you’ve got a team who will look to sit back, they’re the two you want playing just in front of Fred who’ll clear things up.
“When you’re up against a more difficult side you’ll probably want to drop Van de Beek and bring in Scott McTominay alongside Fred and have your focus on keeping things a little bit tighter and more compact in the middle.
“It’s a good problem to have when there are so many players with different things to bring to the team, but that three of Fred, Van de Beek and Fernandes can challenge any side in the league. With the confidence those two bring to the team going forward, they can beat anyone.
“They figured things out about each other very early on; they know what they both like and they play nice little one-twos off each other and it’s difficult to play against. They’ll create the space and those angles to get the ball into the box for Cavani with his goalscoring instinct.”
On Man United’s player of the season so far
“Without a shadow of a doubt it’s Bruno Fernandes. I know everyone says it, but for him to come in and produce what he’s produced so consistently, you’ve got to give him the credit.
“He has this willpower where you can see he’s always trying to make things happen for his teammates. And if that’s not working he’ll try and do things himself. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit for that.
“Yes, it is a team performance, and he’s gelled in well. But you have to say individually he’s been the star man.
“Man United had their eye on him for a while but seemed to have a clear path to sign him. The way he’s been performing since he joined, you’d have thought that every big club in Europe would’ve been after him, but that just wasn’t the case.
“I suppose there was a question mark about whether or not he could deliver to a similar level outside of the Portuguese league. Clubs buy players from that division all the time, and maybe Man United got lucky in that no other sides thought they needed that kind of player at the time.
“Maybe there might have been questions around whether or not he’d have been able to do it in the Premier League, because it is completely different. But I think you have to give credit to Bruno himself because there is a lot pressure on you – especially playing in that position for Manchester United, and he’s just taken in in cruise control, really.
“He’s not really thought about that pressure; he’s just got on with it and tried to prove he’s the best player to take Man United forward a gear.
“He’s the one who gels the team together. Obviously there are going to be times when he’s not playing and the other lads will have to step up – but he’s a great example for the other players around him to aspire to.
“You do worry about him signing for another club just because of how good he’s been for United since joining. I can’t see that happening any time soon, but in football you never know.”
On Man United’s target for the season
“For me a top four finish is all that’s important for Manchester United this season. I say it a lot but on their day they really could beat anyone, which is why it’s a shame they didn’t make it through to the knockouts in the Champions League.
“The Premier League is a weird one this year, but it’s brilliant to watch. Every Saturday we’re seeing anyone can beat anyone. But I think Man United could still finish top four, even with the way it’s gone after their bad start. They’ve now got into a rhythm at the moment and it’s all about consistency now.
“If they win their game in hand they’re two points off top of the league, which is crazy when you put it like that after the way they started and that game against Tottenham. Nobody would’ve thought they’d be where they are now, but they’ve kept grafting and grinding out results and ultimately that’s all that matters.”
Where Man United can strengthen
“Man United are so strong in midfield and up-top, but maybe they could strengthen defensively. I’ve always liked competition.
“I’ve said it many times, but when we were winning trebles and doubles, the squad was so good that you might not play well one game, but you knew you had to play well the next game because otherwise the manager would take you out. That comes down to the strength in depth we had in every area, and that’s what the very best teams have.
“There’s depth in the United squad, but players like Axel Tuanzebe haven’t played enough games. I’d like to see him getting a bit more game time. But at the same time, if Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are fit, then the two of them will play.
“For the others, it starts off in training. That’s where you need to impress first and foremost, then when you get your opportunity you’ve got to play well.
“The left-back situation is a good problem to have. At the moment it’s Alex Telles who seems to be getting the nod but you’ve got Luke Shaw and Brandon Williams behind him. Healthy competition is always a good thing in a squad.
“You have to prove to the manager that you’re the right guy to put in the team. Ideally you want that conundrum for every position on the pitch.”
Top Four prediction
“It’s Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Man United who make the top four for me. I’ve said that from the start of the season and I don’t really want to go and change my mind now, even though Tottenham are doing well.
“I just feel like Tottenham always do this; I don’t know why, but I just think they’re going to drop off a little bit. The way that they’re playing at the moment obviously it’s hard to say that but we all know how difficult things can get after Christmas when we reach the business end of the season.
“Every team has to show what they’ve got, and I think Frank Lampard has done very well with Chelsea so far. He’s got so many great players available to him at Chelsea, and he’s changed things around quite a lot since coming in.
“Thiago Silva is a great addition at the back with great experience, playing alongside Kurt Zouma. As far as squads go, it’s probably Chelsea and Liverpool who have the most strength in depth. Frank has got a lot of top names to pick from.”