The goals are beginning to dry up in Manchester United’s quest to finish the season as strongly as possible. – Sport Media News

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When Manchester United confirmed that they had reached an agreement to bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to Old Trafford at 4:51pm on Friday, August 27 last summer, a quick glance at social media made you realise just how special a moment it was.

Just hours after being set to join City, Ronaldo was on the cusp of sealing a fairytale homecoming. It was a day no United supporter, or journalist covering the club, will ever forget. It was head-spinning few hours and in the words of Martin Tyler, I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again.

Despite signing Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho earlier in the window, Ronaldo’s return to Old Trafford was the headline moment. He instantly became the signing of the summer and all was rosy in United’s garden.

Now, following Saturday’s defeat to Everton, United’s garden is overgrown with weeds and in a state you’d expect to find it in as winter takes hold, not as Easter weekend looms. The Reds’ latest embarrassment has all but ended their already faint Champions League hopes for next season.

Whilst the mathematics and statistics clearly show that United can still finish in the top-four, there is as much chance of it happening as Paul Pogba extending his contract beyond June 30. It’s over.

Although United still have a greater chance of finishing in a Europa League or Europa Conference League berth, and that’s if they can stomach that, all eyes are already on the summer and the expected arrival of Erik ten Hag. The size of the challenge awaiting the Dutchman is an enormous one and it is impossible to say just how many changes need to be made to the squad.

Considering United have now shipped 42 goals in the Premier League this season, meaning they are just two short of equalling last season’s overall total with seven games left to play, you would argue that strengthening the defence, alongside sourcing a new defensive-midfielder, should be their top priority. But their recent performances against Leicester City and Everton suggest that they should be using just as much energy into sourcing a new goal-getter-in-chief.

United have scored a paltry one goal in their last two games against two teams that have conceded a combined total 100 goals in the Premier League this season. When you remember that United shaped their transfer business last summer to accommodate the plan of pushing for the Premier League title, it is a stark reminder of just how far away they are.

Although they threatened early on against Everton – twice through Marcus Rashford – United carried little threat over the course of the match. They were starved of creativity and when the chances did come their way, you got the sense that a lack of confidence was behind their wastefulness.

It is why signing a new striker has to be towards the top of United’s to-do list this summer. Yes, Ronaldo has proven that he knows his way to goal, plundering 18 goals this season, but he is now at the age of 37 and it remains a mystery what the future could hold for him.

Rangnick detailed United’s need to sign a new, younger striker back in February, insisting it was “obvious.” In recent weeks, it has become more and more obvious, highlighted by their tally of six goals in their last seven games in all competitions. Two of those games have been against sides that have flirted with relegation all season long, making it even more alarming.

“This is obvious,” Rangnick said two months ago, answering a question on if the club needed a “younger” striker in the squad. “Edinson’s [Cavani] contract is running out in the summer, and the club needs the best possible centre-forward.

“This is an obvious one. I think everyone is aware of that.”

You can argue that United have struggled to create chances in recent matches, but when the likes of Bruno Fernandes and Jadon Sancho are at full tilt it is hard to imagine them continuing to struggle to create opportunities. It is why they need a fresh face at the top end of the pitch to spearhead what they are trying to achieve and make them successful again.

The addition of a striker, of course, is not going to solve all of their issues, and nobody is saying it would. But it would, if they selected the correct option, hopefully, ease the burden on the defence.

A club of United’s size should be scoring goals by the lorry load. They were once the entertainers of the English game and for even the most spirited and upbeat United supporter it is now becoming a chore to watch them.

They need fresh options and that needs to start from the front. Rangnick recognised it several weeks ago and United are only strengthening his argument.

Eric Bailly was visible in Manchester United training last week and then invisible at Goodison Park. Ralf Rangnick did not list Eric Bailly in his injury bulletin on Friday yet there were two goalkeepers on the United bench against Everton.

Bailly signed a new contract last April and has not played since the win against Burnley in December, his seventh club appearance of the campaign. He has appeared more times for Côte d’Ivoire.

Whether or not Bailly returned from international duty with an injury or illness (that would be the seventh time in under six years at United), he cannot be at the club next season. It was bad enough United rewarded Bailly with a renewal, an unconvincing three-year deal for a 27-year-old who has played fewer games than Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes joined United three years and seven months later than Bailly did.

The worst Everton team in 20 years overcame United through commitment in what was possibly the worst standard of a fixture in the Premier League all season as both teams dragged each other down to their level. It was apposite Everton won through a deflected goal from the Scouser Anthony Gordon, a talent who epitomises the ethos Evertonians demand.

The United substitutes’ pre-match keep-ball drill might as well have been played on a sandpit. Many players have mentally checked out already and Paul Pogba has already submitted the script to excuse his nondescript United career: it is all the club’s fault.

When United were thrashed 4-0 at Goodison in 2019, Pogba swiftly disappeared down the Main Stand tunnel. On Saturday, the temporary entrance for the away team was still in use, so the United players had no choice but to pass their irate supporters at full-time.

Cristiano Ronaldo paused, collapsed to the turf and pulled down his sock to find his shin bloodied. The gash was visible as he gingerly trudged off, possibly seeking sympathy. He did not receive it from Mancunians or Merseysiders and his reaction to the Everton fan whose phone he smashed was deplorable.

Pogba’s body is in Manchester but his mind is elsewhere. He is not the only one. Edinson Cavani’s body is rarely in Manchester. Such players who are indifferent to United’s cause should not be selected again.

Hannibal Mejbri warmed up on the Goodison touchline and has to be under consideration to start against Norwich, let alone make the bench. United are carefully nurturing Alejandro Garnacho, mindful of managing the hype around a 17-year-old who has trained with Ronaldo and Lionel Messi within the last month.

Garnacho trained with the first-team last week and scored the winner for the Under-23s against Chelsea on Friday night. In a week where he signed a sponsorship deal with Nike and was treated to hospitality at the Chelsea-Real Madrid Champions League quarter-final, his 12th goal in for United’s junior teams this season was a reassuring statement of intent. An attacking exodus is certain and the run-in is ideal for United to bed in Garnacho.

Left-back Alvaro Fernandez, another recruit from Madrid in the pandemic summer of 2020, was unfortunate not to earn a bench role against Middlesbrough two months ago and has served his apprenticeship in the Under-23s. Alex Telles’s shelf-life at United is short and Luke Shaw went under the knife on Saturday.

James Garner triumphed again on Saturday with Nottingham Forest, threatening to pip Bournemouth to automatic promotion in what would be one of the stories of the English league season. If Garner’s place in the United squad for next season is not already assured then it should be.

The club planned on lowering the average age of their midfield three years ago and Garner may now be ready to become visible. Unlike Bailly.

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