Key Areas Louis van Gaal Must Address at Manchester United

After a less than encouraging season for Manchester United, where the 2012/13 champions miserably failed to defend their title, finishing in 7th place, the upcoming transfer window will be of utmost importance for the red half of Manchester. Strong investment will be key as they look to revitalize a squad that lacks quality and depth in several areas, with the dismal transfer dealings of last summer putting even more pressure to get it right this time round. Here are four areas, with potential transfer targets, that United must address this summer:

Center Midfield

Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s what everyone’s been talking about for months, if not years. Manchester United have simply failed to replace Paul Scholes; a creative, goal-scoring midfielder who could dictate play and control the game from deep, as well as advancing into more attacking areas. In fact, no Manchester United central midfielder has reached double figures for goals for over a decade.

The list of names of midfielders for United to sign is endless and your guess is as good as mine as to who Louis van Gaal and Ed Woodward will actually end up signing, so it would perhaps be more useful to identify the type of midfielder they need.

First and foremost, to say that Manchester United need a defensive midfielder would be hugely understating it. The midfield was so disjointed from the defense last season that you could have parked a tank in between the two lines during the majority of most matches. Opposition creative midfielders ran riot in between the lines, especially on counterattacks where United’s back four was left with absolutely no protection whatsoever from the midfield. In short, the central midfielders were 10 yards too high every game, leaving huge spaces in behind the midfield for the opposition to dictate play.

What United need is someone who will do a job in front of the defense, breaking up play before recycling possession to start United’s own attack. William Carvalho seemed to be the target under previous manager David Moyes, although rumors have since died down after his sacking. Bastian Schweinsteiger is the latest name to be linked, and it is rumored that Pep Guardiola is happy to let him go, leaving the door open to United to swoop in. His extensive passing range and endless ‘engine’ would do wonders for United’s midfield, and Schweinsteiger could be a perfect fit to play the deep role in the central midfield pairing.

United would also need a dynamic box-to-box midfielder to provide some much needed energy in the center of the park, a player that is capable of breaking the lines and attacking the box from deep, hopefully grabbing a few goals in the process. Kevin Strootman fits the bill and is a long-term favorite of Louis van Gaal, but his current injury means that January will the the likeliest time to see a move develop.

For now, Arturo Vidal and Paul Pogba of Juventus have been linked, although both come with hefty price tags, whilst Cesc Fabregas’s imminent move to the Premier League has drawn inevitable rumors. The Spaniard looks like he’s on the way to Chelsea, but there have been reports that Juventus would be willing to sell Pogba or Vidal for around £50m. Considering David Luiz moved for that price just a couple of weeks ago, a player of Pogba or Vidal’s quality might be worth digging deep into the pocket for.

Left-Back

Patrice Evra is no longer the consistent full-back he once was and defending their left flank was one of United’s key problems last season, particularly in defensive transitions. With the Frenchman constantly reluctant to track back, instead focusing his attentions on helping the attack, teammates were forced to desperately cover the gaping hole that he had left as soon as possession was lost, which in turn dragged them out of position and put the whole defensive shape of the team in disarray.

Moyes was particularly eager to address this position, clearly shown by his attempts to sign Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao, but it is a different left-back that he eventually made progress in signing. The foundations for Luke Shaw’s transfer to United were laid by the Scotsman, and they are still being built upon now, with the club’s negotiations with Southampton still ongoing.

The player is willing to sign, and with Chelsea focusing on Filipe Luis and Liverpool on Alberto Moreno, the club should face little competition and simply must get the deal done. At just 18 years of age, Shaw has featured in an impressive 35 games this season, earning his first England cap in the process. His form has even merited a place on England’s plane to Brazil for the World Cup this summer. Due to his age, Shaw would be able to fill the position at United for at least 10 years, making the reported sizable fee of £30m economically justifiable if you see the transfer as a long-term investment.

Shaw was an vital part of the Southampton defense that only conceded 46 goals all season, bettered by only five other teams in the Premier League. In comparison to Evra, Shaw made more tackles, had a higher percentage of ariel duels won and made less defensive errors leading to a goal-scoring opportunity. As well as being defensively solid, he is also capable of overlapping the winger and providing extra width in attack; a vital attribute for the modern full-back. Shaw has the potential to become one of the best full backs in the world and would be a fantastic acquisition for Manchester United, given his age, ability and almost limitless potential.

Center-Back

The departures of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic this summer marks the end of an era for Manchester United, with the center-back pairing forming a formidable partnership for the best part of the last decade, and replacing them adequately will be vital towards any success United have next season. With the relatively inexperienced Phil Jones and Chris Smalling still developing, Jonny Evans will require an accomplished partner for next season, preferably one with experience who can go some way to providing much needed leadership and organization to the United back line.

Mats Hummels, a player who is not only defensively solid but is also adept at developing attacks from the back, something which would fit perfectly into van Gaal’s style of play, is an obvious target. The composure the German possesses on the ball is admirable, shown by a pass accuracy of 89%, as well as his tough tackling and excellent reading of the game, making Hummels a near perfect signing for United this summer. Convincing Borussia Dortmund to sell him may be another matter, however, and United may be forced to turn their heads towards other targets.

Ezequiel Garay has had an excellent season at Benfica and has similar qualities to Hummels, making him a potential target, whilst fellow Primeira Liga defender Eliaquim Mangala has been a reported target of both United and City for quite a while now. AS Roma’s Mehdi Benatia has also been identified as a possible signing after shining in Seria A, but the Italian side have been rumored to have slapped a £50m price tag on the Moroccan in an attempt to scare off buyers.

Deals for the aforementioned defenders may be difficult to conclude for a variety of reasons, such as the club’s lack of Champions League football next season, and so United may have to look towards less proven options. Bruno Martins Indi, who van Gaal works with in the Dutch squad, is another potential acquisition. The Feyenoord defender is only 22, yet is already an established part of the national team squad, and has impressed immensely in the Eredivisie this season.

Martins Indi is strong in the air, but also quick on the ground, and has the anticipation and awareness to position himself cleverly to avoid getting caught out during quick transitions. He is perhaps the most likely signing that United will make at center-back, especially considering that van Gaal is a well known fan, and he certainly has all the attributes to succeed at Old Trafford. The only concern is of his lack of experience, but if van Gaal trusts him to make the step up, it could well turn out to be a bargain signing for United that will benefit them for the foreseeable future.

Winger

Once upon a time, Manchester United were renowned for their dazzling wing play. The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs would break with unbelievable speed, precision and skill, drilling fear deep into the hearts of opposition full-backs as they made direct, purposeful runs looking to get behind the defense. It’s all gone a bit wrong since those days. Nani, Young, Obertan, Valencia, Bebe; United’s list of wingers have hardly sparkled of late. Sir Alex Ferguson did try to address this problem towards the end of his reign, to little avail, with unsuccessful attempts to sign Alexis Sanchez, Lucas Moura and Eden Hazard, whilst his final signing of Wilfried Zaha has had little effect on the club so far.

Louis van Gaal must now amend for those transfer failures, and such mistakes in the market cannot be made again. A goal-scoring winger who is direct and can also grab a handful of assists simply must be signed and has publicly been identified as a key target by van Gaal. Marco Reus may be an unrealistic target considering United’s lack of Champions League football, but if the German can be convinced to leave his beloved Dortmund, he would be an ideal candidate to put an end to United’s woeful line of wingers.

A more realistic target lies in Antoine Griezmann, a winger that has lit up La Liga this season with his close control, quick change of pace and nifty dribbling in tight areas. With 16 goals in the league this season, Griezmann is just the man van Gaal is looking, and his arrival would come with welcome relief for United fans after watching Antonio Valencia endlessly try and fail to beat the first man with aimless crosses.

Pedro is a player of similar qualities to Griezmann who is rumored to be tracked by United at this moment in time, whilst talks of the previously mentioned Alexis Sanchez are also doing the rounds. Both provide a similar goal-scoring threat to Griezmann, with Pedro and Sanchez grabbing 15 and 19 goals respectively last season, and it would be no surprise for United to approach Barcelona should either become available.