Five January signings to cement Man United as title contenders

The vast majority of Manchester United fans would settle for Champions League qualification this season, reaffirming the Old Trafford outfit’s status among the European elite after the nightmares of their seventh-place finish last term.

But their ever-confident, ever-ambitious manager Louis van Gaal is eyeing a bigger prize, claiming the Red Devils have fought their way back into the Premier League’s title race following a resounding 3-0 win over Liverpool yesterday afternoon, as reported by The Guardian.

Still eight points behind league leaders Chelsea, however, and with several intrinsic gaps in their squad, it could take some further acquisitions in January, following the club’s £150million summer spending spree, to make LVG’s self-imposed target for the English crown a reality.

With that in mind, here’s a list of FIVE such acquisitions.

Benedikt Howedes

Howedes
With the availability of Manchester United’s injury-prone defence dictating Louis van Gaal’s selection of both formation and personnel, adding top quality to the backline will be the Old Trafford gaffer’s first port of call in January.

Some huge names have already been linked, including Mats Hummels, Diego Godin, Raphael Varane and Miranda, but none of their respective clubs appear particularly keen to sell in January.

Schalke centre-back Benedikt Howedes however constitutes a more realistic and cheaper option, having recently described an ‘adventure abroad’ as a ‘temptation’ to German publication Bild.

The 26 year-old would add vital experience and leadership to a Manchester United defence that currently lacks both, having served as Schalke skipper since 2011 and featured almost permanently in a Germany side that won the 2014 World Cup.

Those performances at Brazil 2014, proving his quality to play at left-back despite measuring in at lofty 6 foot 2, demonstrated Howedes’ capacity to play at a higher level. Here’s a look at his highlights from the tournament:

Perhaps most importantly for Manchester United, the Mannschaft star is comfortable in any role across the defence. That versatility not only makes him ideal for a LVG-inspired back three, but will also plug intrinsic gaps in United’s squad between now and the summer.

The tabloids rate him at around £15million but recent reports claim Arsenal are the defender’s likeliest suitors:

JUAN CUARDADO

Cuadrado1
Another rumoured Manchester United target that blends quality with unique versatility is Fiorentina star Juan Cuadrado.

The 26 year-old winger featured in a plethora of diverse capacities for the Serie A side last season, as detailed below, even leading to Barcelona targeting him as a potential replacement for right-back Dani Alves in recent times.

cuadrado positions

Despite regular changes in position, the Colombian international wreaked havoc in the Italian top flight last season and brought his form to the World Cup:

Cuadrado stats (2)

He’s continued in a similar vein this year:

Cuadrado

Perhaps most importantly for United, in addition to his versatility, Cuadrado offers the Red Devils relentless pace going forward – something they’ve desperately lacked this season.

The South American only agreed a new contract at Fiorentina in October this year but it included a £28million release clause, which is well within the Old Trafford outfit’s financial grasp.

Rumoured interest from Premier League champions Manchester City however, could prove problematic:

KEVIN STROOTMAN

Strootman
Had it not been for a World Cup-ending ACL injury, Manchester United would have likely signed Louis van Gaal favourite Kevin Strootman during the summer, with the Old Trafford boss even publicly admitting his interest in the Dutch international back in July.

Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick have both enjoyed strong form of late but the Netherlands international, often referred to as ‘the Dutch Roy Keane’ offers something a little different, particularly tenacity, dynamism and a consistent supply of goals.

The 24 year-old served as club captain at former club PSV and has continued to excel since moving to Roma last summer, as detailed below:

Strootman

Consistent on the ball, industrious and well acquainted with van Gaal through the Oranje set-up, Strootman ticks all the boxes for United. Here’s a clip of him in action:

Manchester United face a tough task in prizing him away from the Stadio Olympico in January, however. Not only are the Serie A runners-up refusing to sell, valuing Strootman as audaciously as £79million on occasion, but reports this week claim Chelsea are now looking to muscle in on any potential deal:

Nathaniel Clyne

Click Clyne
The right-back berth has been a bit of a problem for Manchester United this season, with Brazilian Rafael seemingly permanently sidelined and Antonio Valencia a consistently average performer.

Speculation over the last few weeks has claimed the Red Devils are targeting Southampton star Nathaniel Clyne:

The 23 year-old’s influence at St. Mary’s has verged upon talismanic this season, netting twice in 16 appearances, including this stunner against Aston Villa:

…in addition to topping the Premier League’s tackle charts:

Nathaniel Clyne tackles

That form has seen Clyne emerge as England’s first choice right-back this season, overtaking the likes of Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker and Glen Johnson.

With just 18 months left on his current Saints contract, January is undoubtedly the right time for United to buy, despite tabloid valuations of £25million.

But in a bid to deter interest from several top Premier League clubs, Ronald Koeman is hoping to have negotiations over extended terms concluded by Christmas.

MARCO REUS

Reus
A ‘Gaalactico’ on par with Manchester United’s lucrative recruitment during the summer, if the Red Devils are to make another top-end acquisition in January it should, for a multitude of reasons, be Borussia Dortmund star Marco Reus.

As is now public knowledge, the German international’s Westfalen contract includes a £20million release clause set to come into effect during the summer, but having won two Bundesliga Player of the Year awards in the last three seasons, it appears a plethora of top Premier League clubs aren’t prepared to wait that long and will try to prize him away in January:

The winger-forward, famed for his blend of world-class technical quality and pace, is an incredibly versatile attacker, capable of playing the roles of scorer or provider in the final third. Here’s a look at his stats over the last few seasons:

Reus

And a clip of Reus in action:

The Dortmund talisman’s arrival at Old Trafford would truly announce the Red Devils as revitalised title contenders, but following reports last week that the German had started taking Spanish lessons, it appears Real Madrid have won the race for his signature:

 


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