By Scott MacLean
With a season in the Old Trafford hot seat under his belt Louis van Gaal has embarked on the inevitable makeover of the squad. While it could easily be confused for an attempt to seemingly reunite the 2014 Dutch world cup squad at club level, it’s also something that’s long overdue, going back to the last years of the Ferguson regime. Van Gaal also has seemingly significant appeal to players despite his general reputation of being an egotistical megalomaniac, but after all United had one of those at the helm for 26 years and that worked out OK.
One of the criticisms levelled at Sir Alex was his unwillingness to strengthen central midfield; after all why spend money bringing in someone like Wesley Sneijder (who was linked to the club in almost every window) when you could persuade Paul Scholes to pull the boots back on, and he really never went looking for a Roy Keane replacement once he showed his then-captain the door. Since taking over van Gaal has filled his stocks with talent; holdovers Michael Carrick, Juan Mata, and Marouane Fellaini were joined last summer by Herrera and Daley Blind, with LVG shipping Tom Cleverley off to Villa, Anderson to Fiorentina and then Internacional, and stalwart Darren Fletcher to West Brom. This summer van Gaal has upped the ante, landing Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin – long linked to several clubs – from Southampton, and German World Cup and Champions League winner Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern. Now van Gaal has some real steel and energy in the middle of the park no matter the formation. Brazilian youngster Andreas Perreira, who appeared here in the U20 World Cup, is another option but more likely to see time in the Cup games.
Van Gaal also has amassed a collection of wingers, a sure sign of intent that this side will move the ball wide. Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are known but ageing qualities while Angel di Maria, if he remains, will need an improved season to justify his reputation. Adnan Januzaj fell out of favour for most of last season and will need to take his opportunities to impress the boss, with new singing and another of that Dutch contingent Memphis Depay likely to get first look with his inside-out talents on the left. Blind is another candidate if van Gaal elects to set up more defensively, as is Marcos Rojo as a wingback if van Gaal tries his 3-5-2 formation again. Rumours of a move for Barcelona’s Pedro are also circulating, stuck behind a couple of blokes named Messi and Neymar at the Nou Camp; while talk of a monster bid for Gareth Bale won’t go away.
It’s at either end of the park that United look a bit thin and where it’s likely that further signings will be made. Radamel Falcao’s loan from Monaco wasn’t worth the money apparently paid for it and while I hope he rediscovers the form that made him one of the best strikers on earth, hopefully it’s not at Stamford Bridge. Robin van Persie is all but on his way to Fenerbahce, calling time on more than a decade in the Premier League. That leaves just two, captain Wayne Rooney, and Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, with the latter returning from loan at Real Madrid to an uncertain future at Old Trafford. As much as it annoys Spurs fans Harry Kane is a target the club has genuine interest in, and Ezequiel Lavezzi is another though he plays more as a winger and only in a swap with PSG for Di Maria. Deploying Fellaini in the ‘Heskey’ role is always an option if an aerial approach is sought.
It is at the back though that most focus is on, and on the future of goalkeeper David de Gea. Having blossomed into one of the world’s best, the Spaniard wants to return home with Real Madrid’s interest confirmed (and Iker Casillas released) and personal terms reportedly agreed. Losing de Gea would be a blow, and the only other goalkeepers on the books are former Barcelona stopper Victor Valdes, who made his thoughts on being left behind from the current North American tour well known on Twitter, the little used Anders Lindegaard, and Academy player Sam Johnstone who has toured the lower leagues on loan, most recently at Doncaster and Preston North End. A move for Jesper Cillesen, the Dutch World Cup starter, from Ajax would seem a sound one regardless, with Hugo Lloris’ injury ruling him out for now and Asmir Begovic already gone to Chelsea.
In defense, Sergio Ramos wants to move the other way to De Gea. The Spaniard would add much needed experience to the back but that would be tempered by his age (29), his history of red cards in La Liga, and that internationally he’s generally been deployed at right back rather than centrally. United have made a formal offer though Madrid seem in denial about that and appear more concerned with PR after ham-fisting Casillas’ departure, but a deal that sees United paying cash along with De Gea for Ramos would be foolish.
Regardless, United need to add a quality centre back, with injuries at one point forcing van Gaal to deploy Michael Carrick alongside youngsters Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett. Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, and Jonny Evans all remain on the books. There are reports of interest from Everton for Evans, who is off contract after this season while the jury is still out if Smalling and Jones are both better suited for other positions and Rojo needs a much improved campaign. Dortmund’s Mats Hummels has long been a target, but he seems set to stay in Germany for another season, so identifying another one, if not two, is priority.
The same could apply to the fullback positions. Luke Shaw had a rough start to his United career but is still yet to turn 21, while Rafael’s could be over with the signing of Matteo Darmian from Torino. With the Italian able to play either side, but preferring the right additional cover for the left could be useful, especially if Blind and Rojo, who play there internationally, are used elsewhere. Smalling, Jones, and Valencia all have experience on the right but all bring different sorts of risk.
Tactically, van Gaal has plenty to work with. Two of Carrick, Blind, Schweinstieger, and Schneiderlin seem set to form the base in central midfield with rest of the side built from there. Options include a traditional back four behind, with Herrera, or Schneiderlin pushed forward, flanked by a pair of the wingers with Rooney up front; with another possibility being three centre backs with the fullbacks encouraged to get forward provide the width and a combination of Rooney, Depay and Fellaini in the forward line.
What I expect between now and deadline day:
Out: De Gea, Evans, Di Maria
In: Cillesen, a centre back, winger, striker
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