Manchester United are in a serious pickle: knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday the club’s trophy drought will stretch to at least five seasons as Ralf Rangnick’s team fight to finish in the top four. The squad are patently not good enough. A perfect scenario would allow a double-figures clear-out of players but this is impossible. So, the category included below of “stay by default” recognises this; “must go” is self-explanatory; and “must stay” takes in the dead certs and those out of contract next year who should be persuaded to re-sign. Mason Greenwood, suspended indefinitely, has not been included in this list.
Eric Bailly (contract expires 2024, defender) The 27-year-old should be enjoying his peak years yet through no fault of his own is too injury-prone, illustrated by his making only seven appearances this season.
Edinson Cavani (2022, forward) A victim of United’s mixed messages: Ole Gunnar Solskjær projected as a coup having the striker renew terms but the Norwegian proceeded to sign Ronaldo and Cavani was relegated to the stand-in No 9. Is often not match-fit by self-declaration.
Phil Jones (2023, defender) Now 30, Jones is another whose body has, sadly, serially let him down: the player Sir Alex Ferguson once claimed could be United’s greatest ever last pulled on a United shirt more than 10 times in a season in 2018-19.
Jesse Lingard (2022, forward) Was persuaded to stay last summer, yet relations with his boyhood club have become particularly frosty (to characterise in polite terms) and he will depart.
Anthony Martial (2024, forward) A spluttering, underwhelming seven-year United career will surely end after a half-season loan at Sevilla.
Juan Mata (2022, midfielder) Has become United’s eternal substitute – the Spaniard was once the club record signing but is 34 next month.
Nemanja Matic (2023, midfielder) The 33-year-old is a two-time Premier League champion with Chelsea but age has reduced him to a plodding presence whose lack of dynamism sums up one of the many faultlines in the United XI.
Paul Pogba (2022, midfielder) The Frenchman is bright in bursts but has never returned a single season of consistent, game-wresting brilliance. It is time to say a polite goodbye to the World Cup winner.
Stay by default
Harry Maguire (2025, defender) Too slow and error-prone to be a regular and thus should not be the captain. However Maguire is both. As with Victor Lindelöf (who is the marginally better player) he requires the metaphorical kick up the posterior the recruitment of an elite centre-back could give.
Marcus Rashford (2023, forward) In his seventh career season he has become lost and lacklustre. But given United’s forward options he may remain for next term – unless Rashford pushes for the move he is seriously contemplating.
Cristiano Ronaldo (2023, forward) At 37 he should not be United’s focal point. But which other club would take on his circa £490,00-a-week wage? Offloading Ronaldo would be a headline statement but unless the player wishes to leave it seems unlikely he will.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka (2024, defender) Is pacy and loves to tackle but too often anonymous. Priorities in other positions mean he likely stays as back-up.
Diogo Dalot (2023, defender) Has been edging Wan-Bissaka for the right-back berth. Is better than the latter going forward though not as accomplished defensively.
David de Gea (2023, goalkeeper) “I love the club,” he said after Tuesday’s exit but De Gea is out of contract in June 2023 and though his inability to command airspace is a glaring vulnerability United should move to re-sign the 31-year-old.
Anthony Elanga (2026, forward) The 19-year-old has three goals in 18 appearances in a bright start. A suspicion harboured is that he may prove underwhelming but deserves a chance to show otherwise.
Fred (2023, midfielder) Has gone from maligned to quasi-magnificent – on occasion – the Brazilian benefiting from being allowed a more dynamic role.
Tom Heaton (2023, goalkeeper) Solid third choice.
Dean Henderson (2025, goalkeeper) Has become the No 2 goalkeeper after a brief run as first choice last term. Henderson’s ambition means he wants to leave but United should retain him for the same reason: De Gea, as with all players, requires competition.
Bruno Fernandes (2025, midfielder) Has a vigorous case for being the club’s best footballer. The Portuguese may be below the level previously set but is still the second-top scorer with nine goals and the talisman.
Victor Lindelöf (2024, defender) Flashes of class when stepping up to ignite goal-yielding attacks suggest the Swede, at 27, is beginning to sparkle. Lindelöf’s terms end in two years: these should be renewed and if an elite centre-back is recruited the challenge of jousting with him and Raphaël Varane for a place should further elevate his game.
Scott McTominay (2025, midfielder) Shines in a mediocre side but not enough: a hunch says with better players around him McTominay will prove a genuine A-list performer.
Jadon Sancho (2026, forward) The 21-year-old could end as United’s player of the year after a mid-season resurgence. Sancho currently flows through contests offering luminous moments and, vitally, end product.
Luke Shaw (2023, defender) A post-Euro 2020 hangover (maybe), injury and Covid-19 could be factors in the defender’s under-par campaign. At his best Shaw is a potent attacking force and impressive part of the rearguard.
Alex Telles (2024, defender) The Brazilian is a capable deputy to Shaw and his dead-ball contributions are an asset.
Donny van de Beek (2025, midfielder) On loan at Everton, the word from United’s training ground is that the Dutchman is worth the opportunity to glitter that he is yet to be given.
Raphaël Varane (2025, defender) Initially off the pace after joining in the summer but Varane’s smooth defending casts him as the class act of a shaky rearguard.
Brandon Williams (2024, defender) On loan at Norwich but has the aggression and thrust missing from the team: his local-lad status will also enhance the dressing room.