Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson will overhaul his squad this summer, after his current crop failed to make the grade against Bayern Munich at Old Trafford Wednesday night. Top of his shopping list should arguably be a new centre forward to partner and/or supplement the talents of Wayne Rooney. With Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema’s future said to be in doubt, the former Olympique Lyonnais forward might be just the tonic for Ferguson’s ailing squad.
In last night’s Champions League quarter final second leg with Bayern, whilst United were unlucky to lose on away goals having been reduced to ten men, their over reliance on Wayne Rooney was there for all to see. Rooney was clearly not match fit, and lasted just 55 minutes before being replaced by John O’Shea. He now has a burst blood vessel near his ankle, and is doubtful for United’s trip to Ewood Park. However, perhaps most telling was Ferguson’s decision to leave Dimitar Berbatov-his £30m fully fit striker-on the bench for all but the last ten minutes. Ferguson clearly does not favour Berbatov in big games, and is unwilling to indulge the Bulgarian by shaping the team around his talent, and using a 4-4-2 formation. Whilst it would be churlish to dismiss Berbatov as a flop, how much longer can the Bulgarian try in vain to lead the line as a lone frontman?
The alternative to United’s reliance on Rooney, and Ferguson’s lack of faith in Berbatov (let’s not even get started on Michael Owen), would be to sign a fast, powerful and young striker that would be effective in United’s counter attacking brand of football. Karim Benzema, the young Real Madrid forward, could prove to be such an outlet this summer. Benzema singles the Brazilian Ronaldo as his hero, and his ability to dribble and score goals is not unlike the former Barcelona and Real Madrid forward. However, Benzema can also create goals for others, and has excellent vision. Not only is he capable of leading the line on his own, the French forward likes to drift out to the wing and pull away his marker, and so could be deployed by Ferguson on the left or right of the attack in a 4-3-3, as well as a centre forward.
It should come as little surprise that Benzema has struggled to settle down in Madrid. The Algerian born 22 year old forward joined Los Blancos in a deal worth £30m last summer, in a team that was hastily assembled by Florentino Pérez. Further, Real manager Manuel Pellegrini was simply expected to fit the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso, and Benzema effortlessly into a coherent team. However, Benzema is yet to adjust to Spanish football, to the extent that manager Pellegrini has restricted Benzema to just 19 starts, although Benzema has been hampered by injury. Nevertheless, the player told French sports newspaper L’Equipe that he feels greatly “disappointed” by his lack of chances to start matches, and as early as October 2009, there were rumblings of discontent between Pellegrini and the former Lyon forward, after Pellegrini substituted the player in a game with Sevilla.
If Pellegrini stays at the Bernabéu, there is a good chance he may stick with the impressive Gonzalo Higuain, and offload Benzema this summer. Benzema’s pace and power would be perfectly suited to the Premier League, with French and English football far more alike than the more patient and measured approach seen in Spain. It remains to be seen whether Benzema leaves Madrid, but Ferguson would do well to ensure that if the player is set for a summer move, Old Trafford is the destination.
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