After a 4th placed finish, Manchester United will find themselves back in the Champions League next season – though they’ll have to win a playoff to reach the group stage proper.
With that in mind United will need to strengthen this summer, both because the strains of Europe will require reinforcements and because they’re still a work in progress.
Last season United looked good at times, but they didn’t score enough goals. And without David De Gea, they may have conceded too many as well.
If they’re to spend big this summer – and Van Gaal has a huge budget – this could be the team they line up with come September 1st.
It seems like David De Gea is on his way towards the exit door and seeking a move back to the Spanish capital. Most United fans might see their current goalkeeper as part of their dream XI, and perhaps he should be in there, but let’s be realistic. It looks like he’s leaving, and there are two good replacements for him here that won’t weaken the team too much, and may even give United a little extra money to spend in order to lure a big star somewhere else in the lineup.
Lloris is tried and tested in the Premier League, along with De Gea he was one of the best last season. He’s an excellent shot stopper but above all else, his sweeper-keeper abilities make him a great fit for Louis Van Gaal. The French captain won’t come cheap, however, and most of the money taken from any sale of De Gea might well be needed to tempt Tottenham into a sale.
The other option is Victor Valdes who is also tried and tested, however he hasn’t played much football in the last year and a bit. We don’t know how much of a gamble it would be to put him right into the side if De Gea were to leave, but everything that was said about Lloris is true about Valdes – we saw his shot stopping abilities first hand against Hull and his sweeper-keeper credentials are well-known. The plus side of Valdes is that he’d be free, freeing up £25m or so to spend on another player
Full-backs first, and United have been playing Antonio Valencia here for much of the season. The Ecuadorian international has been in good form. We know all about his pace and strength, and he can put in a mean cross too. The beauty for United is that when they have so much of the ball, it’s counter attacks they have to worry about defending – they won’t have to worry about defending against teams who build sustained pressure. This means that the full back positions become less about defending and more about joining the attack, and Valencia can do that nicely.
When United do have to defend, they’ll be able to rely on his strength and speed to get back and help out with the counter attacks, but they won’t need to rely on his defensive capabilities quite so much. So although United might like to sign a right back, it’s not a huge priority.
Marcos Rojo is a capable deputy both for this position and for the centre back positions too.
United spent a lot of money on Shaw at the start of last season, and injury stopped him from making a big impact this season. The youngster did well, though, and he looks to have all the qualities necessary to become a top Premier League full back. Still only 19, Shaw has a lot to learn but the best way of teaching him is to give him game time.
But he makes the team on his own merits, he’s strong, he’s quick and is good with the ball at his feet. He can cross too and like Valencia, he can play in a system where he can get forward and chase back on the counter
Probably the biggest ‘will he, won’t he’ of the last few seasons, Mats Hummels is unceasingly linked with Manchester United and for good reason too – he’s a world class centre back, he’s big, strong, positionally aware. He is experienced, has a World Cup winners medal and a Champions League runners-up medal.
But the biggest reason United want him is his ability on the ball. He’s a cultured, classy defender who can pick a pass and keep possession. United need this kind of player to stop attacks and set up attacks of their own, but they can also use him as an out-ball when attacking. The perfect Van Gaal defender.
Another name touted with a move to United is Raphael Varane. It might be unlikely for United to pull off the transfers for both Varane and Hummels, but this is a dream XI we’re talking about here.
The young frenchman makes the team because of his ability on the ball and his ability to stand up to attackers and not dive into tackles. Varane is of a similar mould to Hummels, which perhaps makes their pairing unlikely, but given that both of these defenders are so highly thought-of around Europe United fans would surely love to see them both at their team.
More likely might be a move for either Varane or Hummels and pair the new signing with Phil Jones. Jones is more of a physical defender than Varane or Hummels, and the partnership of physicality and subtlety would make United fans reminisce about Ferdinand and Vidic. Who knows, maybe Jones would flourish playing alongside such a top class defender.
The lynchpin of Van Gaal’s team, United simply must keep Michael Carrick fit and on the pitch.
Whilst United’s attackers set up base camp outside the opposition 18-yard box and the full-backs bomb forward, Michael Carrick slots in between the two centre backs and creates a back three, leaving United less vulnerable to counter attacks. When he gets the ball he can be used as a pivot to vary the angle of attack or simply as an out-ball when United run out of ideas.
On the ball, Carrick is a maestro and can pick a pass as well as anyone in the Premier League. He is the most important player that Van Gaal has, not just because of how good his is, but because of the system that United use. Rooney sometimes plays here, but he just doesn’t have the range of passing, vision or composure that Carrick does. Very few do.
Carrick is United’s Pirlo, and they’ll need to make the most out of him while he’s still there.
Another great passer, Herrera is more adept at playing slightly further up the pitch. His range of passing is also wonderful and he popped up with a goal or two last season. Next season he’ll simply continue his role in the Manchester United midfield.
This is a dream XI, so I don’t like to put in too many double choices, but sometimes it just depends on who the opposition is.
Marouane Fellaini has been used this season as a midfield powerhouse cum aerial threat. Against the teams Van Gaal feels will sit back and defend deep, pace and guile seem less effective, and working the opportunity to play the ball in high to Fellaini will work better.
Against the teams where pace will yield better results, Angel Di Maria – assuming he stays – is a good player to have in this role. He’s a midfield scurrier these days, rather than an old fashioned winger, and with the arrival of Memphis Depay he doesn’t have the pressure of providing the pace and directness that United fans seem to look for from him. Di Maria’s job is to get around the midfield, get on the ball and make things happen, but that doesn’t mean setting up chances from the wings himself. Against teams where guile and subtlety will work, Di Maria is a great player to have in your side.
There’s not much to say about Rooney, really. He’ll be given a role in Van Gaal’s team where he can get on the ball and pass, but we’ve seen all of last season that Rooney is at his most effective when he’s played up front. It might be the case that rather than going 4-3-3, United will look to put Rooney up as a second striker with Depay at the tip of a diamond who drifts into wider positions.
Depay is touted as a Di Maria replacement, but there’s still room for both players in Van Gaal’s team. The Dutch manager is unlikely to want to utilise both players as wingers – though he does have that option if the game calls for it – and Depay could be used as an all-purpose attacking midfielder, drifting wide or into the middle depending on where he can get space, pick up the ball and run at defenders. He also has a fierce shot and an eye for goal, as reflected in his 22 league goals last season – making him top scorer in Holland. He’ll give United a more direct threat.
One of the best strikers in the world, Higuain is always linked with the world’s biggest clubs. This might just be the perfect time for United to tempt him to the Premier League.
Napoli have missed out on Champions League football for next season, and United are in the hat, but with the Old Trafford futures of Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao uncertain United could be looking for a new striker.
Higuain is strong and knows how to finish, he’d fit in perfectly not just to the Premier League, but also to Van Gaal’s system. Both these things are important, and could see Higuain hit the ground running at top speed.