Manchester United might already have a solution to left-back transfer issue
Man United are monitoring a number of left-backs in the transfer market but they might not need to sign one.by Daniel Murphy
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been no stranger to utilising his youth ranks to solve problems for Manchester United, and he might have a solution to another one in promising defender Teden Mengi.
Although at one stage it seemed to be sorted, left-back once again emerged as a troublesome position for United last season. After years of struggles, Luke Shaw looked to be finally getting back to his best. He was a constant threat down the left flank with his gallivanting runs and relentless support and he had also sharpened up the defensive side of his game, becoming much more difficult to beat.
Yet injuries, which have plagued him throughout his career, once again struck. This time an ankle injury suffered against his former side Southampton went on to rule him out for the rest of the campaign, with his absence being keenly felt in semi-final defeats in the FA Cup and the Europa League.
Brandon Williams was his replacement and, though he had performed admirably earlier in his breakout campaign, the teenager struggled for form and often looked as though he was struggling with the responsibility. Which isn't surprising for a player so young, especially when he's playing on his weaker side.
The emergence of Williams is what convinced United to shelve plans on signing a new left back last year but it's now under consideration again due to uncertainty in the position.
MEN Sport understands that the club's recruitment department are monitoring Real Madrid's Sergio Reguilon, who impressed on loan at Sevilla last season, and Dynamo Kiev's Vitaliy Mykolenko.
Yet United aren't prioritising defensive signings this summer, with Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho remaining the priority, and it's likely that no new left-back will arrive at Old Trafford for the coming season.
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Should that be the case, and with Williams playing more often on the right, then Mengi could be the solution and he could potentially find himself becoming a regular presence in the first team.
Manchester-born Mengi has rapidly risen through the ranks in the United youth system and is already the captain of Neil Wood's Under-23s side, despite only being 18.
He is primarily a centre-back and that's where he impressed in a 25 minute cameo for in the friendly defeat to Aston Villa on Saturday but he is also a more than capable full-back, as he proved in the 6-0 demolition of League Two's Salford City in the EFL Trophy.
Mengi was initially supposed to be playing in the middle of the defence for that, too, but a late injury to Lukasz Bejger meant he shifted out to the left with Will Fish coming in at the centre.
Usually when a centre-back shifts to a full-back position it upsets the balance of the team as they are less comfortable venturing past the halfway line to support attacks and provide width. Or, if they do go forward, they're not as composed on the ball and are lacking quality in their delivery.
Mengi, on the other hand, looks like he has played at full-back for the entirety of his young career and an unaware viewer wouldn't have been able to tell that he hasn't. He was constantly getting forward throughout the match, exploiting space that had been created for him by the likes of Hannibal Mejbri and Anthony Elanga.
And when he got on the ball he didn't waste it, instead he constantly made the correct decisions with his passes and played with a maturity well beyond his years. He remained solid at the back too, with Salford never getting past him down flank and their only shots of note being optimistic efforts from distance.
One piece of play in his own box particularly stood out and showed off all of his qualities. He cut out a cross that had come into the penalty area but then, instead of hoofing clear, he took a couple of touches under pressure before then picking a pass out to the right-wing to kick-start a counter attack. It earned him high praise from co-commentator Gary Neville, who commended his 'composure.'
Solskjaer has been left impressed, too. He likened Mengi to Juventus defender Matthijs de Ligt following the victory and later labelled him 'an exciting prospect' after the match at Villa Park.
With the Sancho negotiations continuing to rumble on and the likelihood of the signing eating up much of United's budget if and when it's finally completed, it wouldn't be surprising if a new left-back doesn't arrive at the club this summer. But that might not be quite as problematic as feared with Mengi continuing to grow and improve as a player.
He only has six minutes in competitive action for the first team so far, having made his debut against LASK in the Europa League, but that number is almost certain to go up this year and it might just be at left-back.