Its been clear for quite a while now that the powers have shifted in Manchester, with the blue half adorned with the title of “Champions” and the red half, desperately searching for players that would make them competitive with their bitter rivals. For once it was United making all the headlines, splashing exorbitant transfer fees and extravagant wage packages, while their neighbours brought in a few recruits to cement their place at the summit of the world’s most competitive league.
Following their abysmal campaign last season, which culminated in the sacking of David Moyes and a disappointing seventh place finish, it became clear as daylight that United’s playing staff needed some serious investment. As a result, sports media had been set ablaze with rumours, linking football’s cream of the crop with a move to the Theatre of Dreams. Hereunder, I will analyse the way in which Louis Van Gaal has utilised his transfer war chest, and how exactly these signings fit into the Dutchman’s infamous “philosophy”.
Summer shake up
Old Trafford was undoubtedly one of the busiest venues in terms of incomings and outgoings this summer, with players deemed not good enough being moved on, experienced campaigners bid farewell to and fresh, exciting faces being marvelled at. Outwardly, there have been massive improvements in United’s squad, with Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria exponential upgrades on the likes of Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa. Luke Shaw, one of the planet’s brightest prospects, Ander Herrera, as well as World Cup stars Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo have followed the mercurial South American pair through the doors at Carrington.
During their assignment at Turf Moor over the weekend, Manchester United looked a shadow of their former Fergie inspired selves. There was neither quick, intricate passing, nor expansive play on the flanks, as United’s lack of incisiveness and verve saw them play out a dreary stalemate. However, a positive to draw from the game was the cameo of Di Maria, who’s magnificent through ball nearly provided an assist for Robin Van Persie. The Argentine showed some deft touches and was the Red’s main attacking outlet during the opening 45. The former Madridista faded, however, as the match progressed, but this is to be expected from a player in the early stages of his Premier League career.
The acquisition of Falcao may go down as one of the most astute this summer, as the Colombian brings robustness and lethalness in front of goal, to a front line already oozing with class. This, coupled with the enigmatic Di Maria is surely a mouth-watering prospect for United fans and football lovers in general.
Areas of concern
Despite all this, I am still of the opinion that gaping holes in the United squad have gone unattended to over the summer. For example, The Red Devil’s array of central midfielders consists of:
- Ander Herrera
- Juan Mata
- Angel Di Maria
- Darren Fletcher
- Marouane Fellaini
None of these players are able to occupy a holding role to any degree of merit, and this is surely a weakness to be exploited by opposing teams. The vast majority of these players are forward thinking, so United may find themselves lacking in aspects such as tracking midfield runs, combativeness in the middle of the park and pressure on the ball from midfielders. Comparatively, rivals of the Manchester club have these attributes catered for as they find themselves well stocked with these type of players. Footballers such as Nemanja Matic, Jordan Henderson and Fernando would easily get into United’s midfield and make a monumental difference.
It came as no surprise that names such as Mats Hummels, Medhi Benatia and Thomas Vermaelen were linked with a move to Old Trafford, following the departures of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Van Gaal’s favoured 3-5-2 formation requires central defenders that are comfortable in possession, able to drive out of defence and are positionally impeccable. A monumental amount of credit for Holland’s impressive showing in Brazil must be afforded to their back three of Ron Vlaar, Stefan De Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi. These defenders epitomized everything advantageous of having three at the back . However, Van Gaal’s current trio of Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Tyler Blackett tick none of the boxes. Evans is perennially nervous in possession, and his pathetic pass gifted MK Dons a goal in United’s abysmal Capital One Cup showing. Phil Jones on the other hand is an honest, hardworking player but he hasn’t been able to find his best position and kick on from there. It is still early days in the case of Blackett, who does come across as a promising youngster, so I will reserve judgment on him for now. Marcos Rojo did impress at the World Cup, however it would be unfair on the player, coming from a less physical and slower league to be expected to hit the ground running. The same can be said about Daley Blind, who does have the ability to ping magnificent cross-field passes, but will need time to bed in to the Premier League. In my opinion, The Red Devils have made an almighty blunder in not securing the services of a top class centre half over the summer. They lack that reliable presence at the back, who will instill confidence throughout the team, something that Vincent Kompany, John Terry and Per Mertesacker provide in abundance to their respective sides.
The season ahead
Despite not achieving Champions League qualification last season, Man United have still been able to lure players of the highest class. This is a tribute to the commercial magnitude of the club, with many high profile, foreign organizations paying an arm and a leg just to be associated with Manchester United. This is what has enabled The Red Devils to fork out competitive wages and secure the most sought after talents.
Many people may accuse United of being “top heavy” which may be true in some regards, but there is no doubting the sheer attacking threat posed by The Red Devils. An attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao, with the wizard-like forces of Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata orchestrating from midfield may be enough to blow away opposition defences before a ball has even been kicked. Louis Van Gaal undoubtedly has an array of the brightest stars at his disposal, but whether he will be able to unearth the correct constellation remains the million-dollar question.
By Hamzah Ebrahim - Liverpool fan - @