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The Red Devils may lack defensive strength in depth but the signing of the Colombian superstar is a remarkable one given the club's absence from the Europe's top table

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By Oliver Platt

Manchester United are 14th in the Premier League and enter September yet to win a game under Louis van Gaal.

After finishing seventh last season there will be no European football at Old Trafford to interrupt the monotony of a domestic campaign, while last week's 4-0 defeat against Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup brought about an undignified an embarrassing end to their new manager's honeymoon period.

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United have seemingly spent the post Ferguson era lurching from one disaster to another - and yet the Red Devils have demonstrated that the lure of the famous red shirt remains as great as ever by completing the sensational deadline-day signing of Radamel Falcao. 

The cup thrashing and Saturday’s turgid 0-0 draw at Burnley might have drawn even more criticism had they not been bookmarked by two of the most significant signings in recent United history. 

Hours before kick-off in Milton Keynes, a deal to sign Angel Di Maria for a Premier League-record £59.7 million fee was completed and Falcao's purchase a week later might have cost even more had he signed permanently from Monaco rather than on an initial season-long loan. 

Inevitably, given their current predicament, Van Gaal and Ed Woodward’s decision to move for the Colombian will be hotly debated. United still lack both quality and cover in defence, with only Marcos Rojo brought in during the current window at centre-back.

A midfielder with the aggression and combative qualities of Arturo Vidal would be useful, too, and it seemed for a long time this summer that the Juventus star would be the club’s primary target. 

Then there is the question of how exactly Falcao, Di Maria, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie fit into a balanced starting XI. 

Having watched the likes of Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kagawa struggle to make an impact against lower-league opposition and swiftly head for the exit door thereafter, however, United supporters - and Van Gaal - might be inclined to worry about formations and selection problems later. 

In his combined four seasons with Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao scored a total of 142 goals in all competitions, netting 34 or more in each individual campaign. 

He had bagged 11 goals in 19 games for Monaco before a serious knee injury ended his season and ruled him out of the World Cup, where he might have helped a hugely impressive Colombia team progress even further.

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Falcao's signing boosts a forward group that, although littered with star names, has delivered only two goals in three games so far this season. If - and it could be more a matter of when - Rooney and, in particular, Van Persie rediscover their best form, United could claim to boast the most frightening group of pure centre forwards in world football.

The mood will only truly change around the club when they start winning matches on a consistent basis, but the arrivals of Falcao and Di Maria - as well as Rojo, Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind - represent an emphatic answer to the question of whether United can continue to thrive without the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Of course, Van Gaal would have liked to have had a settled squad in place for the start of the season and there are still some questions to be asked of Woodward as a negotiator but, given the circumstances, United can look back on their list of buys with great satisfaction.

While Arsenal appeared cumbersome and hesitant once again, the Red Devils have lived up to their reputation as one of the most powerful clubs in the world and a competitor not only to Manchester City and Chelsea but - if not now, then two or three years down the line - to Barcelona and Real Madrid, too.

By signing Falcao they might have prevented City from taking a significant step towards claiming another title this season by replacing the injured Alvaro Negredo with the striker known as El Tigre.

That is another remarkable aspect of the deal - that Falcao seems to have chosen United amid reported interest from two of the strongest teams in the world in City and Real Madrid. 

The former Porto star heads to Old Trafford with no guarantee that his loan will be made permanent next summer, and could feasibly play a single season in Manchester during which United are not involved in the title race or the Champions League. 

Falcao has not played in Europe’s top competition, in fact, since 2010 - and has sacrificed another opportunity to do so with Monaco this season. 

The unique appeal of Manchester United will endure for a little longer yet.

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