As the end of the season draws nigh, Manchester United fans are a little more enthusiastic about the future than they were at this very moment last season. The wretched David Moyes era, reduced a club used to winning the title to the gloomy depths of 7th place in the league. As if that wasn’t painful enough, the club would no longer dine with Europe’s finest in the Champions League.
Fast forward a season and the embers of recovery are ablaze. A top four finish which was the MINIMUM target set for Louis Van Gaal has been secured and a return to Europe’s elite is just a playoff away. Job done then by Van Gaal! So now all attention turns to next season where the expectations will be where it’s expected to be for the World biggest football club. Challenging for the title and a serious crack at Europe will surely be asked of Louis Van Gaal.
This summer is considered “part 2” of the rebuilding phase and with the signing of the hottest young prospect in Europe in Memphis Depay, the club have begun early! So just where and perhaps who do we need to strengthen?
It’s widely expected that David De Gea will be moving to his native Spain to join Real Madrid. A particularly galling prospect for United especially given the tremendous season he has had. After a shaky start to his United career, the Spaniard has blossomed into unquestionably the best keeper in the world and he will take some replacing. Many believe that his replacement is already at the club in the form of Victor Valdes who comes with great experience and quality together with a winning track record. His distribution and is impeccable but doubts however remain as to whether he has fully recovered from a very serious knee injury and if he would be up to the aerial bombardment and physicality expected in the English Premier League. The other alternatives mentioned are Hugo Lloris and shockingly Petr Cech who has been displaced at Chelsea.
This has been the clubs Achilles heel throughout the season. Failure to replace stalwarts like Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have left the club with an injury prone and often patched up defence lacking in any serious quality needed to challenge domestically and in Europe. A right back is needed with Antonio Valencia being capable rather than outstanding, with the Ecuadorian also prone to errors highlighted by his blunder against Arsenal in the FA Cup quarter final. His versatility, tactical astuteness and physical attributes like pace and strength makes him a good back up option but by no means a starter. Rafael, who LVG clearly doesn’t rate, is almost certain to leave. The club have been linked with Nathaniel Clyne who is one of the league’s best fullbacks and will be a very good addition. Dani Alves being the other but considering his age, he will at best, be a short term option albeit a quality one. A world class ball playing centre back that would ideally go straight into the starting 11 has to be the number one priority this summer. The club’s newly acquired possession based philosophy requires players at the back especially the defenders to be comfortable with the ball and often expected to start attacks. It’s no secret that opposition teams will press United’s defender next season so a centre half that’s good on the ball is a requirement. Mats Hummels has been relentlessly liked with United this season and he will be a dream signing that ticks all the boxes. Experienced? Yes, Good on the ball? Yes, A winner? Yes, A leader? Yes. One of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling would complete the dependable quartet to challenge for the two center half positions. Shaw and Blind provide great youth and quality to nail down the left back spot for many years.
Micheal Carrick’s absence at times this season has alarmingly exposed. His calm, tactical intellect, passing range, reading of the game and the ability to control the tempo of the game make him fundamental to LVG and his philosophy. He sadly, isn’t getting any younger and his frequent injuries have hastened the need to replace or at the least provide cover for him. The club have been linked with a host of midfielders from Kevin Strootman to former player Paul Pogba to Ilkay Gundogan to Sami Khedira. They are all wonderfully talented, expensive players whom all bring a fraction of the qualities Carrick possesses. Perhaps the best choice would be Strootman but given his serious knee injuries it makes signing him a very expensive gamble. Many papers believe Gundogan is a certainty and he will add incredible technical ability to the midfield together with the outstanding Ander Herrera whether in a duo or trio but I question his defensive abilities. Blind is capable of playing the “Carrick Role” but he would have to be a last resort.
The club seems well set out wide especially after the Memphis Depay signing. Ashely Young’s resurgence together with Juan Mata’s new found wide right role makes the wide areas the strongest in our current squad. Depay will bring dynamism and the unpredictability of youth, something the United fans have been used to over the years. Angel Di Maria remains a concern but it’s expected that he will remain at the club next season and it’s exceedingly likely to think that he will rediscover his best form having had a season to settle and acclimatize to a new Country, a new culture and tougher league. The clubs continual link to Bale however will not go away but a signing of that magnitude will depend on entirely Di Maria leaving. Gareth Bale isn’t a need.
Wayne Rooney, Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie … have endured a torrid season. Had it not been for a wealth of goals from midfield, United would have struggled to reach the top 4. Rooney has 14, RvP 10 and Falcao with a depressing 4 goals, this sort of return is unacceptable for a club that will be challenging for major honors next season. Rooney is the only one to emerge with some degree of success considering he has played in midfield for a large portion of the season, once ludicrously as far back as the base of the diamond against Burnley! Van Persie has suffered with injuries and together with his advancing years, his influence has waned to the extent where he is no longer the force that won us our 20th title. Radamel Falcao arrived with a wave of excitement and expectation but has failed to deliver. The popular Columbian has a paltry 4 goals and has not had the impact he or the fans would have expected. Having suffered a serious knee injury post World Cup, El Tigre seems to have lost the cutting edge which made him so prolific post-injury. His attitude and work ethic have been exceptional but with a 43 million price tag hanging over his head it’s unlikely the Club will sign him permanently given his poor goal return. Wayne Rooney will be the man that will lead the line for United next season but another striker is needed to not just provide competition but cover. Edison Cavani being one that seems to be perennially linked with the club but it’s highly unlikely that such an expensive, big name player will be signed as essentially second choice to the United captain. Alexandre Lacazette seems a better option but in saying that he’s unlikely to come cheap as well.
An exciting and another unprecedented summer of spending awaits the club and its global legions but aside from the silliness and fantasy lurks an air of importance. Spend on the right players and the glory days can’t be too far off.