Despite the fact a quarter of a billion has been spent under the stewardship of Louis van Gaal, Manchester United fans are still longing for effective first-team additions.
While one could argue that perhaps the most important change of personnel lies in the managerial position, the team could still use an injection of pace and creativity.
Ed Woodward’s ‘Galactico’ chase has largely proved fruitless so far as the likes of Gareth Bale, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo continue to elude his clutches. With the elite players on the continent proving to be difficult to nail down, perhaps the club should look into the sort of market from which they plucked Anthony Martial.
The little known, yet incredibly expensive, teenager has been a rousing success since his £36.6m move to Old Trafford, proving there is talent out there beyond the realms of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Suggesting paying up to £58m for a 19-year old is taking an understated approach is of course ridiculous. However, the club can be encouraged in the Frenchman’s ease to taking to life in England and can look for similar deals.
Again, to suggest these players are ‘under the radar’ would be a step too far, but developing players of his ilk has always been the ‘Manchester United way’, or so we keep hearing.
Maybe the bigger names are not what is needed, maybe an utter overhaul and some exciting younger talent to improve their faltering fortunes in the long-term is what is required. Still, that hasn’t stopped the incredible amount of transfer rumours surrounding the Theatre of Dreams. It never will.
Now that the Red Devils look increasingly unlikely to finish in the top four, it’s time to undertake the rather galling process of thinking about what could have been. With so many players linked with the club, it will be interesting to see what could have been. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course.
Considering that, here’s the end of January XI Manchester United COULD have had…
In the post Sir Alex Ferguson vacuum created since his departure, David De Gea might be the single most important individual to the club.
The Spanish custodian is simply world class. Without him, it’s amazing to think the club would be right now. Too often have they relied upon his shot stopping skills to salvage a result.
Real Madrid are sure to come calling once again.
Matteo Darmian has had a fairly inconsistent debut season so far, impressing in his debut against Spurs and other games, or being hauled off at half-time in others.
Still, the Italian is coming to terms with life in the Premier League. Injuries have also dogged him since a £12.7m move from Torino. Once he fully adapts, and he certainly has the talent to do so, United finally have a right-back to rely upon once more.
Aside from the super Spanish stop stopper we have previously mentioned, Chris Smalling has been one of United’s key players this term. While that’s a statement indicative of their attacking players, or more so the style in which they operate, the England international has been rock solid more often than not.
Ironically, his career path has taken the sort of upward trajectory many expected Phil Jones’ to. The former Fulham has found his best form at the heart of defence and is ever improving of his marshalling of it.
Daley Blind has not done too much wrong in his partnership with Smalling, though the Dutchman could be more use at left-back in the continued absence of Luke Shaw.
Marcos Rojo hasn’t captured the imagination too much since his move, while the aforementioned Jones continues to suffer injuries. A move for Dynamo Kiev star Aleksandar Dragovic was mooted over the window, in what would have been a good move for the club.
The Austrian central defender is far more suited to the role than the current incumbent, Daley Blind. While he possesses the ball playing attributes the Dutchman boasts, he’s a lot faster on the ground and times his challenges perfectly.
Having nullified both Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Costa in recent times, the 24-year old has top level experience. His ability to hit long passes with almost pinpoint accuracy when the team are under pressure would be a great weapon as United look to hit teams on the counter.
In the most ideal of ideal worlds, Luke Shaw would get the nod in the left-back berth. The 20-year old had seemingly shrugged off his bedding in issues and started to show exactly why the club forked out £27m to land him in the first place.
Alas, he was cruelly struck down by a horrific broken leg injury early on in the season. Ashley Young has deputised in the role, impressing somewhat, but is clearly more suited to a position higher up the field.
Daley Blind at left-back was a key part of van Gaal’s Dutch national side during the 2014 World Cup. His crossing ability and nous in knowing when to go forward was evident during the showpiece in Brazil, as well as the back end of last season.
His stint in more central roles will also have improved his defensive ability, making him an ideal option to provide balance to the rearguard
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson must be commended for his performances since coming into the team, but the 19-year old academy graduate has been thrown into the deep end.
Amid the overly cautious style deployed by the Dutch coach this season, the public view of Morgan Schneiderlin appears to have regressed somewhat into thinking he is simply a defensive midfielder.
Clearly, the Frenchman is excellent in the holding role. However, he is not limited to simply passing square, or backwards. During his hugely successful spell at Southampton, the 25-year old demonstrated his ability as an all-round midfielder.
He can battle with high intensity, something desperately petering out at Old Trafford with an alarming rate. His passing range is almost comparable to a younger version of Michael Carrick, making him ideal to get around the middle of the park with robust challenges, before setting his side on a quick transition with a well placed ball.
The arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger in the summer hasn’t worked out quite as planned, as the World Cup winner struggles for form and fitness. Obviously, he’s a top class performer on his day, but perhaps the best of those are in the past.
Michael Carrick is another who can step in, but his ageing years must be taken into account. Atletico Madrid’s 21-year old Spanish midfielder Saul Niguez was touted as a target during the last transfer window.
Like most of his countryman, the Spaniard is comfortable on the ball and boasts a multi dimensional range of passing. However, he’s robust enough to offer a protective shield in front of the back four and has an ability to dictate the tempo beyond his years.
Paired next to Schneiderlin, United could field an energetic midfield pairing, similar to Spurs in a way, who’s ball playing ability allows for some lethal counter attacks, as well as keeping the ball when backs are against the wall.
Juan Mata was utilised as an inverted right winger to great effect last season, though that particular tactic looks to be growing somewhat tiresome.
Simply, United are lacking pace in attacking areas, meaning the square ball is the best option as they endeavour to break teams down. Southampton’s Sadio Mane is understood to have been a long-term for the club in an effort to battle such an issue.
The 23-year old is by no means the final product, but perhaps that’s something not readily attainable right now. His ability to run through defences, rather than hope Mata and the like can play through them is desperately needed at Old Trafford.
When afforded a freer role, he can drift inside with his direct running forcing the opposition back and thereby creating space. Deploying him on the right of an attacking trident behind a central striker would drag right-backs inside and out, allowing skipper Wayne Rooney to find gaps between full-backs and centre-backs, something which he can punish teams for.
The Senegalese star is also a lethal finisher on his day, notching the fastest ever hat-trick the Premier League has ever bore witness to.
Juan Mata on the right hand side may have grown a little tiresome, but there’s no doubt the World Cup winner remains one of the finest attacking midfielders in the Premier League.
When flanked by two incisive, flying wingers who are capable of drifting inside and out, the Spaniard can find space in the final third and pick passes not instantly visible to the untrained eye.
Having improved on his work rate since a £37.1m from Chelsea over two years ago now, he briefly established himself as perhaps the most important outfield player in the post-Sir Alex era during a purple patch towards the end of last term and the beginning of this one.
Few teams can boast a Number 10 of such quality, in an age where that particular position is of the utmost importance.
Crucial. Until Jose Mourinho arrives anyway.
United were pretty much ridiculed in the summer when they splashed up to £58m on a French teenager with barely 50 senior games to his name.
However, Anthony Martial has taken to life in England well, and barring a brief dip in form in late 2015, looks to be back to his best. Also, the 20-year old is only going to get better.
Louis van Gaal’s decision to move him out to the left wing was another one that baffled, after the former Monaco prodigy impressed through the middle. However, his searing pace and imposing physical stature has helped give the team balance on the wings.
More often than not, he’s pretty much the only Red Devil to even attempt at getting to the byline. As proved with Wayne Rooney’s cheeky backheel against Swansea, the French international can break behind enemy lines and find others in the box.
This season, more than ever perhaps, has been indicative of Wayne Rooney’s career over the past few years. Starting the campaign off in a lumbering, largely ineffective fashion, the England skipper looked as if time was quickly passing him by, despite some fine touches.
As criticism began to mount and his position in the team became under increasing question, the 30-year old roared back with some lethal form.
As the captain of the club, closing in on Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time scoring record, Rooney remains crucial to it both on and off the field. It also helps he is one of the best strikers to ever play in the Premier League, too.