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Saturday, 04 May 2013

Manchester United: What does the future hold for the champions?


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So, now that the title has been wrapped up, it's time to look ahead to preparations for next season, but where do United need to strengthen? Most observers would point to the midfield, but the names that are being linked with Manchester United are of the attacking nature. With Wayne Rooney and Shinji Kagawa operating the attacking midfielder role, is there a need for another?

Last summer I mentioned the need for a defensive midfielder. None arrived. During the start of the season we saw Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick being outrun in the midfield - the defeat to Tottenham being the best example. Tom Cleverley provided speed, but his size, strength and defensive ability weren't enough to protect the back four all the time. Through the course of the season various players such as Phil Jones, Wayne Rooney and Anderson have partnered with Michael Carrick. Of course, the team's defensive performance greatly improved during the second half of the season, but Manchester United still need extra protection in front of the back four. 

A ball-playing defensive midfielder, someone like Kevin Strootman, should be a high priority. Of course Manchester United have Tom Cleverly and Nick Powell - as well as other promising academy players, but Manchester United need a quality midfielder now. Even someone like Frank Lampard could come in and do a job while the younger midfielders are still developing.

Two other players that have been linked with Manchester United are Robert Lewandowski and Radamel Falcao. Both are very expensive targets. The only way one could join is if another striker leaves. Although I would like all the current strikers to stay. The most likely to leave would be Javier Hernandez. Despite his natural goal scoring ability, he is a one-dimensional player. Where as the homegrown Danny Welbeck can offer more versatility, though he does need to increase his goal tally. Sir Alex seems to prefer homegrown talent and if there was a choice, Hernandez would seem to be the one to go. 

Lewandowski is very unlikely with Bayern Munich his most probable destination. Radamel Falcao would be an exciting addition. At 27, he is a world-class player in his prime. With Wayne Rooney, Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie, Manchester United wouldn't be able to stop scoring goals. But United are most likely going to be priced out and, with a good crop of strikers, may look to strengthen other parts of the squad.

Though he was signed in January, Wilfried Zaha will feel like a new signing when he comes to Old Trafford this summer. I think all three wide players have been disappointing this season. It may be a bit harsh on the injury prone Ashley Young. But Nani and particularly Antonio Valencia may be worried this summer. Nani has also had his injury problems, but his form has been inconsistent again. There seems to be little sign of improvement, but at least Nani has been good at times whereas Valencia has been consistently poor. Reluctant to take on defenders, careless with possession and reckless in defence, it's hard to believe a player who was able to put in such fantastic performances just one season ago could be so bad now.

Nani looks set to leave and if Manchester United manage to sign someone like James Rodriguez, or even bring Cristiano Ronaldo back to his second home, then I'd imagine Antonio Valencia will also be departing the Theatre of Dreams. As well as possible arrivals, Sir Alex Ferguson's tendency to play with Kagawa, or another forward, out wide also lessens the need of having many wide players in the squad. Ferguson may look to offload his wingers to help bring in other players.

Lastly, the defence of Manchester United doesn't need much strengthening despite the disastrous start to the season. Fabio will return to strengthen the left-back position - though Leighton Baines may be a target, he is 28 now and I believe money could be better spent elsewhere. Rafael has claimed the right back position and both Chris Smalling and Phil Jones can provide cover. Jonny Evans is now becoming the consistent centre back he was expected to be and with Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand still performing it's unlikey we'll see any defenders arriving in the summer.

David De Gea is now, without doubt, the number one keeper at Old Trafford. Of course there is talk about a move to Barcelona or Real Madrid, but unless that happens, I don't see the need for Manchester United to sign another goalkeeper.

So despite being linked to strikers and attacking midfielders, I believe Manchester United need to look for players who can play a deep, defensive midfield role. A player who can challenge Tom Cleverly and possibly replace Michael Carrick in the near future. Another wide player could also be needed depending on the shape Sir Alex is looking for. Someone like Radamel Falcao or Cristiano Ronaldo would definitely be a welcomed addition, but along with defenders, I don't see a need to bring in an attacking player unless someone else leaves. 

Calling all Manchester United fans: Who do you think Sir Alex Ferguson should sign? Who do you think should, or will leave? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth

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