Half a season has passed since the EPL has kicked off and clubs will again be looking to strengthen their positions once again. Be it for maintaining that top spot, a title charge, qualification for Europe, or just to stay in the league, every club probably has room for improvement.
Two key areas in which Manchester United needs improvement is obviously their defense and maybe their midfield. With senior players made of glass, the manager has had to rely on youngsters to marshal the back line for a combined total of 13 appearances so far.
Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair no doubt have the potential to become top defenders given the right training and experience, however it would take at least another 5 to 6 seasons for that to happen.
Phil Jones needs to stay fit if he is to ever reach his maximum potential as a top central defender and has even taken up yoga recently to achieve that goal. Still a good player, I would say he has another 3 seasons to hit top form and hopefully maintains it for a long time to come.
Jonny Evans has most probably hit his peak as a good and fairly reliable defender. Still prone to mistakes and getting caught out of place, he gets the job done 7/10 times but I would not back him up to lead United’s back line against the strike force of Europe’s elite.
Chris Smalling, similar to Evans, will probably never hit greatness. Smalling has the capability to put in strong performances at times however his defensive lapses at times exposes his inconsistencies.
With the current line up, United is sorely lacking a world class central defender who can control the back four, bring confidence to those around him and be that corner stone of the United defense. Currently, they’re relying heavily on their goalkeeper to keep them alive in matches. This should not be the case for a team that’s vying to re-enter Europe’s elite. Every top team has at least one trusted marshal at the back as the last line of defense before the goal keeper.
Fortunately for United, there’re a few options they could consider.
Mats Hummels – £47 million for a 26 year old, 1.9m tall German world cup winner seems like a fair price to pay. Especially if you’re looking for a quality center back during a period when there are not many available for transfer. Most top center halves are either not for sale or they are already parked in Europe’s top clubs. Hummels is considered to be a complete ball playing defender who can organize his defense and usher him team to safety if need be.
Given that Borussia Dortmund are unlikely to qualify for European football next season, they might be forced to sell their main man at the back now as opposed to the summer transfer window – where his price could be reduced.
Diego Godin – With a £28.5million release clause in his contract, this should be a no brainer for United. They will be getting an experienced leader at the back who will bring a strong physical and aerial presence to the defense. Godin will also work as a mentor for the younger and more inexperienced players while performing his duties as the new marshal.
The 28 year old Uruguayan is considered to be one of the top center backs in the world right now. His experience and leadership is exactly what United needs at the back to stop leaking those goals in. Someone to ensure the team is safe so that they can unleash the full potential of their attacking talents. Not activating his release clause now could prove costly in the future should United look to sign him after it expires.
Another area of improvement, albeit not as obvious as their defensive frailties, would be the midfield. At the moment, United has 4 types of midfield players.
1. Deep lying playmaker – Michael Carrick
2. Defensive Midfielder – Marouane Fellaini
3. Central Midfielders – Daley Blind and Ander Herrera
4. Attacking Midfielders – Juan Mata, Angel Di Maria, Adnan Januzaj.
The one type of midfield player United currently lacks is a box to box player. Think Steven Gerrard at his peak, or Roy Keane before his injury. These were players who not only contributed to the organization of the team when defending, but also started attacking moves from the back and progressed up the pitch to follow up with what they started and ideally make a break into the box to score a goal at the end of it.
Depending on the line up of the squad, the attacking play is usually quite compartmentalized. Withdrawn players do not push higher up to aid in the attack as they leave it to the more fast paced attackers and midfielders to do so, and vice versa when it comes to defending.
The box-to-box midfield role is one of the hardest positions to master in football. Given United’s current squad, they could train Herrera, Blind and Fellaini to fulfill that role. Although it is not a pressing concern at the moment, it would be great to have a player who brings another dimension to the club.
And with United’s list of injuries growing on a weekly basis – it would not hurt to have a quality player to rely on in times of need.
A possible candidate for hire would be Kevin Strootman, a tough tackling midfielder with an eye for the pass. He’s physically and tactically strong plus comfortable on the ball. Strootman was snatched from United back in 2013 when he signed for Roma amidst poor transfer dealings from then United manager David Moyes. The 24 year old Dutch Destroyer is currently out with an injury but acquiring him in January would prove useful given United’s casualty rate.
Upon purchase, United could use him in less intensive matches to bed him in to the EPL while letting him settle down in Manchester itself. People often overlook the off-field integration but I believe giving Strootman 6 months pre-season would do him a whole lot of good before his actual campaign for the 2015/16 season.
The only problem now is, would Roma is willing to let go of one of their top performers just after 29 appearances for the club.
If United can bring in at least one world class central defender, their title surge for the next half of the season should not be taken lightly. With their Spanish custodian putting in match winning performances on a weekly basis, United does have enough firepower to challenge for top spot. However they do need to stop leaking in the unnecessary goals due to poor marking, positioning and tackling.
With their current squad, I would peg them to at least finish 3rd on the final day of the EPL.