It seems only yesterday the summer transfer window slammed shut, yet we now find ourselves less than a full month away from it’s winter counterpart.
It remains to be seen whether it will be an equally expensive January window for Manchester United, who splashed out a whopping £150million during the summer as they welcomed a new manager in Louis van Gaal.
There are several lingering issues at Old Trafford that require resolution however, and the best way to solve them will be in the transfer market.
So with that in mind, here’s a list of FOUR lingering issues the Red Devils gaffer must find solutions to in January.
No one can doubt Juan Mata’s talent. The Spain international won back-to-back Player of the Year awards at Chelsea and a return of nine goals and five assists in 24 Premier League appearances for Manchester United is certainly nothing to be sniffed at. Here’s a clip of the prolific playmaker in action:
The only problem is – where does this fantastic talent actually fit into the Red Devils’ starting Xi? Wayne Rooney is now a permanent choice at No.10, and any experimentation with Mata out wide in the past has often lead to complications.
Just as Jose Mourinho professed prior to selling the 27 year-old, he lacks the defensive awareness to play centrally against top opposition and the natural athleticism to be an effective winger. Van Gaal likes his wide boys too.
That’s a heck of a problem when you’re the second-most expensive signing in Manchester United’s history, reportedly taking home around £130k per week – a figure only bettered by Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria.
There are plenty of potential suitors out there for the Spaniard too, namely Juventus, Atletico Madrid and former club Valencia:
— Express Football (@ExpressFootball) September 9, 2014
And if Louis van Gaal plans the next to transfer windows to be as lucrative as the last at Old Trafford, he probably needs Mata’s help in balancing the books somewhat. That being said, quality going forward is an essential part of the United gaffer’s philosophy and it’s not as if the Red Devils are in a position to start chipping away at their squad depth. That could give the former Chelsea star a stay of execution until the summer, but if van Gaal is approached with a decent offer in the New Year, he’ll likely sell.
Manchester United desperately need a midfield terrier – someone who can anchor in the middle of the park with power and tenacity, easing the burden for all those attack-minded signings made in the summer. But who should it be? First of all, there’s summer target Arturo Vidal, who has proved himself to be one of the top centre-mids in world football since moving to Juventus in 2011. In addition to the 27 year-old averaging 3.5 tackles per match this season, he’s also famed for his netting prowess, having amassed 31 goals in 102 league outings for the Old Lady. Here’s a clip of Vidal in action: But the Chile international’s knee problems are well known, and that combined with a £48million price-tag is what reportedly put off the Red Devils during the summer. Then there’s known Louis van Gaal favourite Kevin Strootman. He’s been in exceptional form since moving to Roma last summer when, in truth, Manchester United probably should have been the ones throwing money at him. Here are his stats from last term: This superb strike against Napoli also stood out: He’s more of a box-to-box than a shin-cracking enforcer but the 25 year-old, often referred to as ‘the Dutch Roy Keane’ certainly has the potential to perform well in that role. The only problem is that Roma clearly don’t want to sell and have publicly valued Strootman as highly as £79million in the past. And finally, the cheaper alternatives. Perhaps bosman-bound Netherlands international Nigel De Jong – the instigator of this…erm…challenge?
Or World Cup and Champions League winner Sami Khedira? His contract is set to expire in the summer and a Bernabeu departure is looking increasingly likely.
Either way, the sooner United land a midfielder that can provide more consistent protection for the back four, the better.
To give credit where it’s due, considering their harrowing inexperience and United’s ridiculous injury problems at the back, academy centre-backs Tyler Blackett and Patrick McNair have done outstanding jobs when called upon this season.
Alongside Chris Smalling, both were particularly fantastic against Arsenal in a back three and unlucky not to eventually claim the clean sheet. They may not be the most dominant of defenders, but they do the simple things well.
The question Louis van Gaal must answer however is whether they’ve got enough to endure until the end of the season, without compromising United’s ultimate aim of Champions League qualification.
Should he hold concerns that the Red Devils need something a bit more proven, finding a top centre-back in January is a necessity.
Of course, the obvious choice is Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund’s World Cup-winning, Beckenbauer-esque 6 foot 4 centre-back, who mixes aerial dominance with the unique ability to eloquently instigate or support attacks. Here’s a clip of the German international in action:
He’s rated at a whopping £47million however, which is rather steep for an injury-prone centre-half.
Alternatively, Jan Vertonghen has just ended contract talks at Tottenham on a rather sour note:
— The Sun – Football (@TheSunFootball) September 25, 2014
The Belgium international has never quite recaptured the form of his debut Premier League campaign, as shown below: But on his day, the 27 year-old is unquestionably one of the best centre-halves in the English top flight. Moving to Old Trafford could bring out the consistency in him. Meanwhile, recent reports claim United could move for Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane:
The 21 year-old won’t resolve the void of experience and leadership at the heart of United’s defence, but he’s undisputedly one of the hottest centre-back prospects in world football. Here’s a clip of the France international in action:
Considering all these central defenders come with price-tags ranging from £20million to £50million however, van Gaal may prefer to stick it out with Blackett and McNair until the summer.
Currently, the in-form David De Gea is understudied by the rather less in-form Andreas Lindegaard, who was reportedly told he was free to leave Old Trafford during the summer – understandably considering he’s never made a name for himself during four-and-a-half years with the Red Devils. None the less, here are some of the Danish international’s highlights for United:
Resultantly, Manchester United took free agent Victor Valdes on trial last month and despite reports that he’d returned to his native Spain last Friday, the former Barcelona No.1 is back in training this week.
— MUFCfanclub (@MUFCfanclub) December 1, 2014
So the only question remaining is whether or not Valdes should be given a contract. His experience is undoubted, having won three Champions Leagues and five Zamora trophies (La Liga’s Goalie of the Year award) during his time at the Nou Camp. Here’s a clip of the 32 year-old in action:
He will likely command a rather lucrative salary, but with rumours rife that De Gea could leave United in the summer, it makes sense to land a bona fide back-up now.