For all Manchester United’s problems this season one area they shouldn’t be struggling in is at centre forward. Between them, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani have scored more than 1,000 career goals.
But those astonishing tales also speak for their longevity. Ronaldo will turn 37 at the start of February and Cavani will turn 35 nine days later.
On the evidence of the first few months of this season they can still cut it in the Premier League, but Cavani will leave Old Trafford in the summer and while Ronaldo has designs of playing on into his forties, he won’t be able to achieve that by carrying the goalscoring burden every week,
When Cavani agreed to extend his United contract at the end of last season it eased the desperation to sign a striker in the summer, allowing the focus in the transfer window to be on finally landing Jadon Sancho and bringing Raphael Varane in.
The can had been kicked down the road at centre forward, but then came the opportunistic signing of Ronaldo, plucked away from Manchester City at the 11th hour. His return has gone as expected in front of goal, if not as a collective.
Those struggles this term have exposed the need to strengthen in central midfield next summer and it could be that at least two midfielders are required, especially if Paul Pogba leaves when his contract expires.
But the issue at centre forward can’t be overlooked. Ronaldo might not be the same player next season and while Mason Greenwood is improving, United need another elite-level striker to challenge on all fronts.
That’s unlikely to be Harry Kane now, but sights will remain set on Erling Haaland. His €75million release clause and astonishing goalscoring record will almost certainly equate to a departure from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
United’s selling point of his fellow Norwegian and former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t as strong anymore and it’s very unlikely Solskjaer will still be in charge next summer. The queue for Haaland will be long and if United don’t look like winners-in-waiting this season the prodigiously gifted goalscorer will probably decide he has better offers.
If that was to happen, where would United turn? Romelu Lukaku was always a non-starter, but his return to Chelsea has left Kane and Haaland as the most obvious striking targets on the market.
Gradually a new name is emerging, however. Dusan Vlahovic enjoyed a breakthrough season with Fiorentina last term and the Serbian has kicked on again in 2021/22. The 21-year-old is outgrowing Fiorentina and is destined for a big move.
The former Partizan Belgrade youngster scored 21 goals in 40 games last season and already had 10 in 13 for Fiorentina in this campaign. He also has seven goals in 13 caps for Serbia, including four in his last three games.
His form is propelling his country towards the World Cup and their fate will be decided in Lisbon tonight. Beat Portugal and Serbia will qualify automatically for Qatar. Any other result will mean a play-off, but going into the eighth and final game level on points with Fernando Santos’ side is already an impressive achievement. Both nations have won five and drawn two of their fixtures so far.
What better opportunity for United to cast an eye over Vlahovic. He will be up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes tonight, with Diogo Dalot also in the Portugal squad. This is Vlahovic’s biggest test on the international stage and a comparison with Ronaldo tonight will be intriguing.
It’s Arsenal who have been most strongly linked with Vlahovic so far and there’s been little suggestion of interest from United, but they can’t rely on signing Haaland at the second time of asking in the summer of 2022.
Instead, they need alternatives at centre forward the in-form Vlahovic looks to tick the boxes. He will certainly be on the move somewhere next summer.