World Cup stars Daley Blind and Juan Cuadrado are the Red Devils' latest targets and the club is confident of landing both to follow up the arrivals of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw – but how would they fit into the side that Louis van Gaal is building?
United has adopted a 3-5-2 formation during preseason as the Dutchman looks to revive a squad which finished a lowly seventh in the Premier League last term and all of his recruits look geared towards fitting into that system.
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Herrera, an all-action midfielder, provides a willingness to get stuck in but primarily offers creativity going forward, which is easier afforded when there are three center-backs behind him. On the left flank, Shaw is a gifted defender who has the attacking chops to push further forward at wing back.
However, United is a little light on the left having sold both Patrice Evra and Alexander Buttner this summer and the move for Blind makes a lot of sense. As good as Shaw already is, he will need – and Van Gaal will want – some relief and the Ajax star’s versatility allows him to fulfil that role without treading too strongly on the youngster’s toes.
Van Gaal sees Blind as an option both at left back and center back, where United still looks a little light given that the club intends to field three in most games. The 24-year-old appeared in both positions during Netherlands’ run to third place at the World Cup, as well as in central midfield – another role which he can be expected to fill at times this season.
As a slower but impressively composed presence on the ball – with a killer delivery, as evidenced by Robin van Persie’s remarkable goal against Spain in Brazil, and how fans will be hoping to see a repeat at Old Trafford – Blind gives Van Gaal a slightly different option in all three areas, allowing flexibility depending on the opponent as well as the opportunity to opt for a back four.
The potential arrival of Cuadrado for as much as 35 million pounds would be an altogether more attacking acquisition and reinvigorate United’s wings, which have disappointed in recent months and years. Primarily a right-sided player, the Colombia international would likely take up the wing-back role opposite of Shaw or Blind with a more explicitly attacking remit.
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With at least one of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling bound to be behind him in any given game, the England internationals are comfortable enough drifting out to right back that the Fiorentina star could expect a great deal of freedom to get forward at Old Trafford and reproduce the form that led to 11 goals and five assists in Serie A last season.
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While it might look an odd position for such an outlandishly attacking player to be stationed, Van Gaal had some success from deploying the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Memphis Depay in similar wing back roles at the World Cup and Cuadrado, a tricky dribbler, should benefit from having more space in which to begin his driving runs. Ashley Young’s promising use in that role during preseason suggests as much.
Barcelona has also shown an interest in Cuadrado and has considered him a replacement for right back Dani Alves, who could still leave Camp Nou this summer.
However, that would not be the end of his utility in a 3-5-2. Should Van Gaal want to directly threaten slower center backs with the Colombian’s blistering pace, then he could be deployed in the No.10 role mostly occupied by Juan Mata in preseason or perhaps as one of the two center forwards – much like Arjen Robben devastated defenses alongside Van Persie in Brazil.
Neither player would come cheap but both look like being exactly the kind of flexible signings who would suit the new-look United. If the deals are pushed over the line, Premier League opposition should be very scared indeed.
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