By Brendon Netto
This Season's Stats
|Premier League: 1st
Champions League: Round of 16
FA Cup: Fifth round
Capital One Cup: Fourth round (eliminated)
Win %: 75.00%
GF ratio: 2.28
GA ratio: 1.28
What they needed
Manchester United have had a strangely successful season so far. Not strange because it was unprecedented but strange because of the manner in which they've operated. Summer signing Robin Van Persie has come in and given them a cutting edge upfront. They are scoring plenty of goals but the key is they aren't just scoring for fun, a lot of their goals have been crucial, often a necessity to account for their defensive frailties.
In need of midfield & attacking reinforcements
Sir Alex Ferguson continuously rotated David de Gea and Anders Lindergaard between the sticks for United with both keepers being susceptible to mistakes and failing to establish themselves. The Scot seems to have finally settled on De Gea as his first choice glovesman for now but a reliable and possibly more mature keeper could've been a welcome addition.
The defense has been unsettled throughout the season owing to several injuries. Jonny Evans has emerged as the most regular center-back so far. The form of the two full-backs Patrice Evra and Rafael da Silva has shown an improvement from last season but the aging Rio Ferdinand and injury-riddle Nemanja Vidic could have done with more cover.
Central midfield is where teams have been able to bypass United and get a clean run at their fragile defense. A strong central midfielder would go a long way to improving the core of the team. Meanwhile, none of their wingers have been particularly eye-catching this season with Antonio Valencia suffering a severe dip of form in this campaign. A devastating wide-man who can really get at full-backs is something United have surprisingly lacked this tie around.
Who they were linked with
Just what the doctor ordered
Victor Wanyama has been on the radar of several European clubs for a while but his impressive Champions League performances against the mighty Barcelona really saw his stock rise. United and Arsenal were touted to launch late bids for the Kenyan powerhouse but surprisingly, neither budged. Sir Alex even watched the midfielder at Celtic Park in January while his brother Martin has been frequently scouting the 21 year old.
A player like Wanyama is just what the doctor ordered for United. He is strong and imposing but he is also composed on the ball and technically gifted. He can shoot from distance and has 8 goals this season while he can pick out a pass as well. He has the ability to drive a team forward or consolidate it from the back. You could go as far as to say that he if United sign him in the summer, which is reportedly a possibility, could be their answer to Manchester City's Yaya Toure.
Stoke City have maintained a good defensive record this season and their kepper Asmir Begovic has had a big hand in that. His performances have attracted interest from United, Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal.
With De Gea coming under so much criticism for his lack of physical presence in the box, Begovic seemed like the ideal candidate to come in and excel in that aspect. Furthermore, the Bosnian has also proven himself as a fantastic shot-stopper and at 25, he seems to be the complete package. For the time being, Ferguson seems to have kept faith in his young Spanish keeper but a move for Begovic could be on the cards in the summer.
Barcelona have reportedly identified De Gea as a possible replacement for Victor Valdes who is expected to leave the Catalans at the end of the season. If a return to Spain is on the cards for the current United number 1, Begovic could move to Old Trafford. City are also keen on acquiring his services to offer Joe Hart some real competition. Meanwhile, Stoke have signed Jack Butland in January which paves the way for Begovic to leave in the summer.The others:
Plenty or rumours
Kevin Strootman has been a long-time target for United and there were rumours that they would bid for him in January even though a move in the summer was always the more likely option. A move for Tom Ince was also speculated with the likes of Liverpool also looking into the possibility of recruiting the Blackpool winger.
Sir Alex had reportedly sent scouts to watch Saint Etienne's 18 year old center back Kurt Zouma and Benfica's Ezequiel Garay as he hunts for replacements for Vidic and Ferdinand.
What they got
An injection of pace & skill
Wilfried Zaha had emerged as one of the most sought after talents in England this season. United and Arsenal were expected to battle it out for the youngster's signature but the Red Devils seemingly put the contest beyond their London-based counterparts with a bid of £10 million with £5 million in add-ons and agreeing to loan him back to Crystral Palace for the remainder of the season.
United's attack have lacked a really threatening winger ever since Cristiano Ronaldo left the club. Nani has shown fleeting glimpses of his ability but has been largely frustrating. Valencia hasn't been able to maintain his form from last season and has looked exhuastingly one-dimensional at times while Ashley Young hasn't made much of an impact either.
Zaha has blistering pace, a vast array of tricks and he's much stronger than he was last season. He has all the raw materials to become one of the feared wingers in football but so far that's just his potential. At such a young age, he is a bit of a gamble but one that looks like it may just pay off.
What this means for their season
Manchester United are 9 points clear in the league, through to the last 16 in the Champions League and into the fifth round of the FA Cup, if someone had offered them this position at the start of the season, they would have gladly accepted it. However, they haven't been the most convincing and in actuality, there are few games in which they truly dominated and buried the fixture. You sense that their wheels could come off at any time but after last season's painful ending, you'd think they're more determined than ever to see things through.
The worrying part is that they had a real chance to strengthen their team by possibly adding a central midfielder and maybe a winger to their ranks but they only signed Zaha who will link-up with the rest of the team in the summer. Their central midfield and defense is still fragile and although they may be able to get away with it in the league, it could expose them in Europe where they face Real Madrid in the round of 16.
|Who do you think Manchester United should have signed? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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