'Improvement' is a word that has been rattling around Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium like a bad rash for a while now. New boss Louis van Gaal has stated numerous times "we are improving" and "we have a lot to improve" and he's right.
A toothless United lost their fourth game of the season 1-0 to Ronald Koeman's Southampton on Sunday and the knives were out a bit. In a game that saw Manchester United fail to register a shot on target at Old Trafford for the first time since 2009 (against Arsenal - a match they still somehow won), it didn't provide any Red with any sort of confidence going forward.
In Van Gaal's post match interview the Dutchman highlighted, once again, the fact that his team needed to improve - common knowledge to all spectators who have watched them play recently.
The Red Devils lack physicality. To be a top team competing for the title you need to be physical as well as efficient. There's no point being physical without having an end product; see Chelsea as a perfect example of this. They're a tough nut to crack, but they're also incredibly efficient on the ball and carve out opportunities while nullifying most playing styles they may come across. In short, they can mix it up a bit.
Marouane Fellaini is the only player that comes to mind when I think of physical players in the current Manchester United side. However, is he efficient? No. He has improved this season, but he's nowhere near the standard United should have, especially when you compare him to previous players in that area like Roy Keane.
Players like Chelsea's Matic and Manchester City's Toure epitomise this style of player that I feel Manchester United lack. They're strong, consistent and technically superb.
The United midfielders are currently; Mata, Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Fletcher and Rooney. None of these players can take the ball, breeze past players and be a battering ram in the middle of the park. Some might argue Carrick can do that, but he hardly beats a player and isn't strong enough in the tackle. Fletcher could've been that player a few years ago perhaps, but he's nowhere near that now and hardly features. The only option is Fellaini and he simply isn't good enough.
United's problems of physicality don't just end in midfield, their central defensive options lack this strength, courage and leadership that has been associated with the old United. Smalling, Rojo and Jones would be eaten up and spat out by the likes of Vidic, Stam and Bruce. No doubt about it.
Louis van Gaal needs to add to the squad this month if Manchester United are to remain in the top four, as well as progress in the FA Cup.
Here's a few players from around Europe who I feel Van Gaal could possibly consider:
Defenders: Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa & Netherlands), Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund & Germany), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid & France).
Vlaar has all the qualities that are needed to be a decent centre-half for United. He's strong, courageous and a leader. Van Gaal should go for him as a last option as he doesn't have the capabilities the other two defenders have but he's someone you can trust and someone Louis van Gaal is aware of from their World Cup exploits in Brazil together.
Hummels is one of the best centre-backs in the world. His reading of the game is exceptional, as well as his positioning. The Borussia Dortmund captain is a well-known leader who will communicate with the younger players in the United side and add some much needed quality to their back-line.
Varane is a player I would go for, but Real Madrid could possibly stand in the way of any departure. The 21-year-old French international is a tremendous talent. He's incredibly quick, strong and great in the air. There's no doubt in my mind that if Sir Alex Ferguson was manager he would have broken the bank for this chap.
Midfielders: Kevin Strootman (Roma & Netherlands), William Carvalho (Sporting Lisbon & Portugal), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton & France)
Strootman has been strongly linked with a move to United over the past view months, which would give most United fans high hopes (except, we all know what happened during the Vidal saga). Standing at 6ft 2, Strootman would be the pillar in United's midfield and he's also an excellent passer of the ball. He would fit in magnificently and it looks like Van Gaal agrees.
Carvalho would be a gamble, especially in January where his price would probably be inflated. He's 22-years-old but has been recognised as a young Yaya Toure. The same size as Strootman but a lot more physical, Carvalho's a very good prospect for the future and could develop into a key figure if he was to join United.
Schneiderlin put in a fantastic performance against United on Sunday and showed why a lot of top clubs want him. He's strong, has an excellent range of passing and can be very effective getting forward. He expressed his desire to leave last summer and should a club of Manchester United's stature come calling, he'll probably be off.
Although I feel defensive areas need to be strengthened ahead of anything else, should Falcao depart we'll be short in attacking areas. Here's, for what it's worth, a couple of options.
Forwards: Memphis Depay (PSV & Netherlands), Lacazette (Lyon & France)
Depay is a very talented winger, currently playing in the Eredivisie with PSV. He's a strong, quick winger who can breeze past players. He's suited to the United philosophy of playing with wingers (something that has diminished under Van Gaal), however, he was selected by the Dutchman for his 2014 World Cup squad - a show of faith from Van Gaal. He could be an option.
Lacazette is the new hot prospect on the market, and his statistics speak for themselves. In 20 games, the 23-year-old has registered a very impressive tally of 19 goals and 5 assists. He would be exactly what United need, a quick forward who can make runs in behind the opposition; similar to Danny Welbeck but with a lot more potential and, arguably, ability.
By Sean McPolin – @SeanMcPolin1