Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. While domestic competition has been swept aside in the league you can be sure that the back room staff are already looking ahead to next season. The hipster brigade are currently lapping up the aftermath of an all German Champions League final which goes some way to prove that dynamic, energetic, and above all, attacking play is the way forward. This current United side are not far away – but what additions are needed to make the next step up?
To all intents and purposes, this team still seems like a work in progress. A few ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ stood between further progress in the cups, so the signs are looking promising. The spine is coming together nicely with a young nucleus all savouring that first taste of glory but standing still is going backwards in football and a few tweaks are still required.
For a team heavily reliant on attacking from the flanks, this season has proved a major disappointment. Antonio Valencia‘s alarming dip in form has been discussed, the temptation to sell Nani explored while Ashley Young has only excelled in the art of flattering to deceive. This all begs a major question; with such a pitiful output this season, should United adapt to succeed or persevere with the wide attacking game?
Certainly, the recent signs indicate a tactical moulding into a more fluid forward line with intelligent forwards like Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie able to drop deep or run between the lines. While crosses will always provide a significant number of goals, few can escape the more intricate style of play in general on the continent. This can be coupled with gradual moves away from an outdated 4-4-2 as indications that the game is moving away from the flanks.
Those looking for signs of such an evolution need only look at van Persie’s equaliser against West Ham United and the chance proffered from Michael Carrick‘s deft pass through to Kagawa. Subtlety from Spanish maestros such as Xavi, Iniesta, Juan Mata and David Silva have shown how key chances can be created through intricate passing conducted through the middle rather than crossing the ball in from out wide. As Johan Cruyff once said:
“Football is simple, but the hardest thing is to play football in a simple way.”
The artistry is already there yet brains also needs a bit of brawn. While the partnership of Carrick and Tom Cleverley has impressed at times, neither offers a dominating physicality. At times this season, it appears that Carrick has been running midfield on his own and the worries that accompany Ryan Giggs’ deployment assume that United appear vulnerable with the two in tandem.
As a makeshift enforcer, Phil Jones excelled in Madrid and at home to Everton yet occasionally lacks the subtlety required and with injuries marking both Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s campaigns, perhaps his future lies in defence.
As Bayern and Dortmund have proved so far this season, having someone who can win the ball then run into empty space can be an invaluable asset. Considering the £31.6m fee they paid for Javi Martinez’s services, the German champions would be hard pressed to sell him after one very impressive season. Meanwhile in Dortmund, while the likes of Mario Götze and Marco Reus have been drawing admiring glances, the under-appreciated gem in their midfield is İlkay Gündoğan. In another case of ‘what could have been’, United had the option over the 22-year-old in 2011 but now with stellar performances in the Champions League, he is sure to come with a hefty price tag.
One other name that keeps being mentioned is that of Kevin Strootman. The 23-year-old has been on the radar since last summer and offers a much needed bullish demeanour. For a holding midfielder, he also poses a genuine goal threat having scored eight times for PSV this season, all enveloped in a box-to-box style of play. Of course, coming from the Eredivisie also means he may be a slightly cheaper option.
What has become a reoccurring trend is Wayne Rooney‘s deployment in midfield. Whether this is to accommodate Kagawa and van Persie in the same side is up for debate but this may be a case of a square peg in a round hole. His managed temperament, use of space and long-range passing lends itself well to the role yet there remains question marks. Concerns have been raised about Rooney’s overall fitness and if he is to be gifted a role in the engine room, then prime physical condition is imperative.
The shift also lends weight to the continued rumours surrounding Radamel Falcao and Robert Lewandowski. Some even suggest that a deal has already been struck with Atletico Madrid mirroring the David de Gea signing of two years ago.
Anyone who has cast their eye over the Colombian will appreciate how the physical and skilful centre-forward would flourish in the Premier League. Atletico would be keen to avoid selling him to their neighbours and it would be a worrying sight to see him in the blue of either Chelsea or Manchester City come August.
A similar scenario also surrounds Lewandowski with Dortmund keen to avoid selling another of their prime assets to Bayern. His game is centred more around looking for pockets of space and clever through-balls. The understanding he had with Kagawa is also worth rekindling and it is intriguing to see Sir Alex Ferguson publicly state his admiration for the striker.
As the dismantling of Barcelona by a rampant Bayern Munich side proved, you can never rest on your laurels especially to become the cream of Europe. Bayern’s policy of continually reinforcing their starting eleven during the summer has left them on the verge of an historic treble and is a policy United should adopt in the transfer window.
This United side has proved too good in the league but with a couple of midfield signings and maybe even a centre-forward next season could be even better.
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