January Transfer Blueprint: Manchester United


***The Transfer Blueprint series details what each Premier League club should be looking for as the January window approaches. Comment below with your own thoughts about what each club should acquire***

Manchester United is featured in today’s Transfer Blueprint edition. Louis Van Gaal’s side has been one of the most interesting in the Premier League through 11 games. At times they’ve looked scintillating, but more often, they’ve played a disjointed, but effective style of football. It’s both a credit and a criticism to United that they’ve managed to stay in fourth despite all of the issues that have surrounded them.

Optimists would compliment them for getting results even when the football hasn’t been all that attractive. The more cynical among us would question why the football hasn’t been a work of art considering all of the expensive artists in the side. At any rate, there’s work to be done in January if they are going to push forward and make a title run.

What They Should Buy: Despite all of the talent in the squad, there are still quite a few positions that deserve attention.

First off, the position of striker must be addressed. Even if you believe that Wayne Rooney’s play is only declining at the rate of his hair line’s recession, as opposed to a total shave, he can’t be a starter every week. Anthony Martial has been awesome, but is he an out-and-out striker or is he better suited on the left?

The answer to that question is irrelevant. You don’t count on a 19-year-old to lead the line for a title push. Nor do you commit to a 30-year-old who is better suited to play as an attacking midfielder. They both have very significant roles to play, but they aren’t locks to start every week up top. Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world. They should flex that reputation and fiscal might to bring in a top-notch striker who can unquestionably lead the line.

The next thing they must do in January is to address the failure of Memphis Depay. He’s still a very young player with loads of talent, so it isn’t fair to write him off for good, but he’s clearly not ready to be counted on this season. He’s only contributed one goal and one assist despite lots of playing time. For a team loaded with attacking options, that won’t get it done.

They should go out and find another option to play stretch the defense out wide. Playing Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney together in the same attacking midfield trio puts substantial pressure on the third player to provide pace. Martial certainly fits the bill, but some matches will require two pacy attackers. Martial needs a foil, particularly if he’s going to play some striker.

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The good news is that the Manchester United defense has played very well, despite lacking the big names that their offense features. I’ll venture to guess not many United fans would bet that Marcos Rojo sports their second best Whoscored.com rating for the year. If that surprises you, you’ll never believe that Rojo is followed immediately in ratings by Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Morgan Schneiderlin. Their defense has arguably been the best in the Premier League.

That doesn’t mean it’s perfect though. I have a hard time believing that Jones and Smalling will hold up as the top centre back pairing in the Premier League over an entire season. Just as they tried to do before the year began, United should use January to bring in a world-class centre back. They missed on Nicolas Otamendi in the summer, but should move for someone like him in January. This would prevent their defense from a predictable regression to the mean.

The team is also set in the defensive midfield. Provided Van Gaal has finally realized that Schneiderlin must start with Bastian Schweinsteiger as opposed to Michael Carrick, they’re in good shape. Add back in Daley Blind as a rotational option and it’s a real position of strength.

What They Should Sell: The question of what United should sell might even be more interesting than what they should buy. They have big names who aren’t performing up to their usual standards. Big names who could command significant transfer fees.

No, I’m not talking about Wayne Rooney here. I am, however, talking about Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini. It’s not that many years ago that he was a top-notch defensive midfielder for Everton who was coveted around the world. Fast forward to now and Van Gaal seems at a loss as to how he can use him. If you’re trying to use Fellaini as a striker, it’s a good sign you have no clue what to do with him.

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  • I outlined the wealth of options United have at midfield earlier which show how difficult he’d find it to break into the team there. Unless United is willing to sell Michael Carrick instead, he’s not going to find much playing time. Man U should move quickly to receive a solid fee for the Belgian Side Show Bob while some club owners still remember his days at Everton.

    I don’t think some of the other older extras like Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia would command much of a fee, but if they can, by all means, take advantage. Neither of them is going to find a way to impact this team, so why not sell if they have the chance?

    What They Will Do: To their credit, I expect Manchester United to be one of the most aggressive teams of the January window. They may not sell a soul, but I’ll be shocked if there aren’t significant additions.

    I fully expect to see them add high-priced additions at both striker and centre back. The latter is nearly a lock. Remember, their transfer purchases must win games and press conferences. Look for a big name for abroad.

    The quest for a striker may prove too difficult. I can’t see them making a move for someone in the Premier League, so they must search for talent abroad. Perhaps someone like Higuain? They’ll add a proven goal scorer with a big name, and a big price tag.

    The question for United during the January transfer window won’t be a question of if they will make purchases, just of who.