January transfer to prove the missing link at Old Trafford?

Ilkay Gundogan

This weekend’s victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford more or less concludes the recovery of Manchester United. The crisis is put on hold for now, and David Moyes gets some breathing space. Instead of falling 11 points behind the Gunners, Man United are now only an Arsenal loss followed by a draw away from catching up at the very top in the premiership. What’s more, the win was a statement of intent; the Red Devils refuse to roll over just because of a bad start.

Still, this merely papers over the cracks in United’s squad for a limited time. It was a hard fought and thoroughly deserved win in my opinion, and especially in the first half, the home team’s game plan went perfectly. Arsenal’s attacking trio of Özil, Ramsey and Cazorla had no space to perform their magic in, and the United midfield, with Phil Jones in particular stepping up his game for the occasion, looked rock solid. With a Barcelona-like pressing game, they never gave Arsenal time on the ball. As a sentiment to the home side’s midfield dominance, the combination of Özil and Ramsey completed less passes than in any game earlier in the season.

This certainly suggest that United have found the answer to their midfield conundrum. If Phil Jones can do the job Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverly have failed to perform alongside Michael Carrick, then there should be no need for a new arrival at Old Trafford i January, right? If they have found a player that can provide that DM-solidity in their own ranks, things look rosy red for the champions, right? Well, not quite.

Former Manchester United first team coach Rene Meulensteen answered questions from fans on Twitter recently, and was asked which player he thought his employer of over a decade should sign in January. His answer: Ilkay Gundogan.

And I find it extremely easy to agree with Mr. Meulensteen. Borussia Dortmund’s German international would in my eyes turn the wobbly and unhinged United side we have all been criticizing recently into a challenger for the Champions League. Although putting Jones next to Carrick worked well on Sunday, it was a one time measure, based on a lack of options more than anything. Moyes simply doesn’t trust Cleverly’s defensive ability or Fellaini’s ability to move each and every one of his 6 feet and 4 inches about the pitch quickly enough. Therefore, Jones’s Rino Gattusoesque rampaging approach to defending got the nod ahead. Wisely so.

But Jones lack the creative ability Carrick’s partner should have. His passing accuracy last night was very good – he didn’t lose the ball a single time in the first half – but he plays it safely. He’s a longterm centre-half at United. Therefor, they should invest in Gundogan when 2014 arrives. The German possess one of the most ferocious capacities in European football. A true midfield engine, Gundogan have the legs to get on the right side of opponents, close them down, and make a powerful run at the oppositions defense. He also have goals in his game, like the brilliantly taken curled strike he provided in July’s 4-2 win against Bayern Munich in the DFL-Supercup.

I have heard arguments that Gundogan would further influx the United attacking three. Former Dortmund playmaker Shinji Kagawa in partly a victim of their desire to play 4-2-3-1. Kagawa enjoy’s playing behind the striker, but has fallen short of Wayne Rooney, and is pushed out on the left where he has struggled to find the superb form that put him on United’s radar in the first place. The argument I’ve been confronted with is that Gundogan would simply become another casualty of Wayne Rooney’s status at Old Trafford. This is missing a key point – Gundogan isn’t originally an attacking midfielder.

He can certainly fill that position with much confidence, like he did in the mentioned game against Bayern, yet this is not where he made his trade. In Dortmund’s two golden seasons in the Bundesliga, in 2011 and 2012, Gundogan sat back alongside Sven Bender in the midfield, with an attacking three pushing forward ahead of him. The exact system Moyes hope to succeed with at Old Trafford. And guess what other playmaking prodigy had the best years of his career in that Dortmund system, scoring 21 goals in 49 games from an attacking midfielder position: Shinji Kagawa. Perhaps a transfer would alight the little Japanese’s career in England as well.

Gundogan has barely appeared for the Germans this season, though, due to a back injury, but is expected to be ready for action before Christmas. I firmly believe that this addition would strengthen United sufficiently to extinct the ghosts of the 4-1 thrashing at the Etihad earlier in the season. However, they are unlikely to rob Dortmund of yet another talent without any fight. Jurgen Klopp will be reluctant to let yet another instrumental feature in his side leave Westphalia, and even if he does, Real Madrid are reported to be monitoring Gundogan closely, looking to replace the unsettled Sami Khedira.

It remains to be seen if Moyes and Ed Woodward can put the disappointing summer transfer window behind them in order to seal the deal, and put Manchester United back in the mix with the best in Europe.

Would Gundogan put Manchester United back in the top of Europe?

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