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Unlike their rivals for a top-four finish, the Red Devils have much of their transfer business ahead of them and are in far greater need of reinforcements - so how will they look?

Manchester United is very much at a halfway house at this point of the summer. The club has spent around 60 million pounds on transfer fees alone already, but the sense is that the real business is still to come. With a number of players still to be shown the door, there are far more questions than answers.

Who's arriving? Who's leaving? Who will be captain? Which formation will be used? Just how much money is available?

Louis van Gaal's arrival will rightfully provide plenty of excitement ahead of the new season, but with just over three weeks to go until the opening fixture against Swansea City, he has little time to run the rule over the players at his disposal and evaluate whether they are willing and able to buy into his philosophy.

He got the very best out of the Netherlands at the World Cup as he was able to pick trusted young players to whom he had handed debuts, plus more battle-hardened veterans who could carry out his orders to a tee - the best example being Dirk Kuyt.

It's unlikely he has even figured out if he has these players at United yet. Perhaps more importantly, this is a squad which simply needs more players. A vast overhaul would've been necessary after a terrible season under David Moyes, let alone after losing several big dressing room influences and essentially an entire defence.

The departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra not only leaves the club well short on defensive options but also leaders. With Ryan Giggs moving into his coaching role it only exacerbates the issue.

Between David de Gea and the forwards, United needs a shake-up. The confidence-sapping campaigns suffered by Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling mean at least one new center back is a must. Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen is a target, not least because he can provide cover at left back, and  Feyenoord's Stefan De Vrij is also on the agenda.

Top of the list is Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund. The Germany stopper is exactly what United needs at the heart of the defense, but he is not expected to force the issue and Dortmund will not let him go cheaply.



Things are even worse in midfield. Ander Herrera is a very good signing, even if the club should have sealed the deal when it had the chance last summer, but it is slim pickings around him. Michael Carrick will be out until October with an ankle injury, leaving the much-maligned Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley, plus Darren Fletcher, who at least will have a full preseason behind him as he recovers from ulcerative colitis.

United must strengthen here and the club is dreaming big. Arturo Vidal and Angel Di Maria have been identified, showing at least that executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is trying to attract the top names, but the public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas last summer is still fresh in the mind and David Gill's replacement has a long way to go.

Paul Scholes summed it up perfectly: "Edward Woodward has an awful lot to prove this time that he's good enough at his job. He has to bring the players in that the new manager wants.

"It's obvious that last year he didn't manage to do that. If he doesn't we are not going to get anywhere near the top."

Don't rule out a deal for William Carvalho, whom Moyes was very keen to sign before he was sacked, if Di Maria and Vidal cannot be tempted.

For all the concerns about philosophies, though, if United can land three of Hummels, Vermaelen, Carvalho and Vidal it would be well in the mix for Champions League qualification - unlike Moyes, Van Gaal will be able to get results in his first season even if the tools are not quite to his liking.

Carvalho, a defensive midfielder, would provide some balance to a top-heavy squad, while Vidal, a wonderful midfielder capable of adapting his game, would be perfect for a number of roles and should really be signed at all costs.

Juan Mata, the current record signing, could be accommodated as a No.10 in Van Gaal's 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, with Robin van Persie, the likely new captain, playing through the middle with Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj out wide.

Such a formation would afford players like Nani, Kagawa, Antonio Valencia, Wilfried Zaha and Danny Welbeck rotation roles in the wide positions, though at least another full-back would be required.

Another option, should Van Gaal get the men he wants - or even if he wants to cover some flaws - would be to use the 3-5-2 he deployed in Brazil this summer thanks to Kevin Strootman's injury. Rafael and Luke Shaw, the £30m arrival from Southampton, could easily play as wing-backs, with Valencia another option, limiting the need for a backup right back.

Herrera could take one midfield slot alongside a potential new signing, Mata can pull the strings at No.10, with Rooney and Van Persie paired up front.


All this means, of course, that the pressure is squarely on Woodward's shoulders. United's rivals for the top four have been impressive in their business already, and they are building on far steadier foundations.

With the massive new adidas kit deal, plus a wealth of global partners, Woodward has shown he can cut it in the boardrooms of the world's biggest companies, but he will be have to do the business with counterparts at Europe's biggest clubs if Van Gaal is to get United back to the top of the tree.

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