Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville believes that Manchester United have taken giant strides under Louis van Gaal and are serious contenders for the Premier League title next season.
Neville believes that United do not need a total overhaul of the squad, rather they need to strengthen in two or three positions only.
United’s performances have drastically improved in recent weeks, as they recorded important victories against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City, and are now firm favourites to qualify for the Champions League next season.
“If you asked me three months ago, I would have said [United] were a long way behind,” Neville said as quoted by The Daily Mirror.
“Two or three months ago, they would have been thinking Chelsea are a long way in front of us. Now the recruitment battle that will happen in the summer becomes critical. If they get that right, United will feel confident they can challenge Chelsea for the title next season.
“I don’t think this summer is a case of United rebuilding or total restructure of the squad. They need to continue to improve in two or three positions: a central defender, a midfielder and a winger.”
Let us analyse the three positions Neville mentioned where United need to strengthen and players the club can buy in the summer.
- Central Defence: Interestingly, Manchester United have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, considering how severely United’s defence has been criticised throughout the season. It was always going to take time for the United players to adjust to a new system under a new manager. Plus, the Red Devils were extremely unlucky with their injuries early on forcing Van Gaal to draft in young and inexperienced academy defenders straightaway into the first team squad. David de Gea has been outstanding throughout but his task was made difficult without having a stable back line ahead of him. Having said that United still need to sign at least one world class defender this summer. Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels has been a reported long term target and United are expected to lodge a bid for him in the summer. The 26-year-old World Cup winner will bring his experience and leadership to the side, something that United missed at the back since the departure of Nemanja Vidic. They are also certain to sign a fullback, with Nathaniel Clyne being heavily linked to United this week.
- Central Midfield: In Louis van Gaal’s philosophy, tactical discipline is key to success where he relies on “structured attacking” along with a “structured defensive” shape. He wants the midfield to be compact, where from the last man in defence to the furtherest player upfront take their respective positions in such a manner that it allows the central midfielders to pick the right passes and dictate the tempo of the game.
And from there on, it is all about spreading passes to the attacking midfielders, who are given freedom to run into the channels. A role that very few players in England can execute like Michael Carrick.
When Carrick gets the ball in the midfield (note his position), he has myriad options in front of him while passing to his teammates. With Fellaini and Mata drifting in pockets, and Valencia hurriedly running to the flanks, Carrick has at least five forward options to pick a perfect pass. In this case, he opts to pass to Rooney, who at at the time of the delivery gets away from his marker, and runs in space leading to a dangerous attack.
The question here is what type of midfielders should United buy in the summer? Do they need another box to box energetic midfielder like Herrera? Or a holding midfielder with a wide range of passing abilities like Carrick? Paul Pogba ideally should fit the bill but will United swallow their pride and dish out £70m for their former player remains to be seen. The French midfielder in only 22 but has grown into a world class talent already. He loves to dribble, he can pass, good at shooting from long distance, puts in a lot of defensive shift – he is a complete package. Another option is Koke.
- Winger or Striker: There are very few clubs in the world that have given so much importance to wing play in their history like Manchester United. From Johnny Berry to George Best, from Steve Coppell to David Beckham, from Ryan Giggs to Cristiano Ronaldo – United fans have always enjoyed the privilege of watching some of world’s best wingers throughout their history. At present, apart from Angel di Maria, United do not boast of having any world class winger, and even the Argentine has had a quiet season at Old Trafford. A lot was expected from Adnan Januzaj, but for reasons unknown, it seems like he is not trusted by his manager.
It is no wonder that United are repeatedly being linked with Gareth Bale, while recent reports suggest the club is also monitoring the situation Liverpool’s pacy young winger Raheem Sterling. So is it the pace or the lack of it that Van Gaal is worried about? On the flip side, Ashley Young has rediscovered his old form and Juan Mata has been equally brilliant as well. Di Maria should be given at least one more season to prove his worth while Valencia can be useful playing as a defensive winger. Therefore, United can do without buying a winger, the attention should be given on signing a world class striker instead. United are highly unlikely to convert Radamel Falcao’s loan deal into a permanent move, while the futures of Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie are also in doubt. James Wilson is a talented young forward but he is still not ready to lead the line on a regular basis. In such a scenario, a proven goal scorer like Edinson Cavani would be a great signing for the Red Devils.
Cavani has expressed his dissatisfaction from time to time with his role on the wide side and the Uruguayan could be willing to join a top Premier League club that can offer him the lead role again.
What do you think? What type of players United should sign next summer? Share your reactions below in the comment section.