Thursday, 16 July 2015

EVALUATING THE TRANSFER WINDOW SO FAR

Mephis Depay unveiled by Louis van Gaal at Old Trafford earlier this month
Unlike most blogs, this one sleeps during the summer break, and there are no apologies for it. Yours truly is only motivated to react when Manchester United are in the business of playing football. After 50 odd days of pretending to love tennis, golf and all those other sports that expend more energy watching them than playing them, it's great that footie is back!

The club flew out across the pond again on Monday for this year's pre-season tour that kicks off in earnest this Friday night (local time) but more on that later. Having resisted the temptation to get stuck into the silly season that is the transfer window throughout June, it's only fair that we start with an assessment of Manchester United's transfer business so far.

THE NEED
At the end of 2014/15, United were, as a matter of expectation, inclined to address the much talked about 'imbalance' in the side especially in the absence of Michael Carrick. It was also expected that the club would finally purchase a right-back to relive Antonio Valencia of the burden of plastering that side of the pitch. Whereas United ended the season just shy of 3rd best defence, there had to be an improvement on Chris Smalling and Phil Jones if United were to compete for the title next season.

The rest of the requirements depended on departures. Having correctly elected against taking up Radamel Falcao on permanent terms, the club also allowed Robin van 20th Persie to leave for Turkish side Fernabache creating a somewhat desperate need for a new striker.

Finally there was always the need for a new goalkeeper if and when David De Gea calls time on his short stay in England.

THE ACQUISITIONS
Having asked for early summer business to allow for adequate preparation ahead of the new season, it's fair to assume that Louis van Gaal is more than half-way through with his expected additions.
As of mid-July, United have added Mephis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin.

Memphis Depay - The best?
Manchester United's latest Dutchman was confirmed as a new signing before the end of the last campaign in a move that was solely designed to prevent Paris Saint Germain from getting to him first. His, in my opinion, should be the most exciting transfer of the lot. If attacking with width, speed and a goal-threat are the requirements for a Manchester United winger, then we might have ourselves the most exciting prospect since Cristiano Ronaldo.

Like the Portuguese in 2003 when he first joined, Depay is hesitant to be compared to any past heroes of  the club but therein the sleepy-eyed Dutchman is an innate confidence about him, a will to achieve all in the game. It's a trait that could easily land him a place in Real Madrid fans' hearts instantly. His 22 league goals for PSV Eindhoven last season mean that it is in his goal tally that he will be judged. No pressure then, but his manager and compatriot suggested at his unveiling that he would complement Wayne upfront. It's a suggestion that will take on more weight if United fail to add a striker between now and the start of the season.

Matteo Darmian - The bargain
Matteo Darmian
If Depay was not necessarily what United needed, Italian wing-back-cum-right-back Matteo Darmian was the first real address to the issues about the United team last season. For starters, during the Dani Alves contract dispute at Barcelona leading to Champions League final, it was privately revealed that Darmian was being quoted at Barca as the replacement for the Brazilian right-back. His rise from at Torino and into Italy's first team at the World Cup last summer meant that he would only be captured on the cheap if you were buying from Torino and not the club he transfers to after Torino. Thankfully that club is United. He comes off as a very likeable guy largely because of that smile but is still a bit limited in English. His first interview does however give off the impression that he can speak 'football English'.

The good news about Matteo is that his attacking prowess down the right flank are not in doubt and yet we can also be rest assured of his defensive nous because, and only because, he is Italian. His ability to excel in the middle and at left-back have earned him comparisons with Paolo Maldini back home. Whereas it would be expecting too much to expect the same contribution as the Italian legend did for AC Milan, it's heartening that he attracts such endorsement. The Premier League obviously plays no host to such sentiment but Matteo is the product of efficient scouting. So have Manchester United finally replaced Gary Neville? We'll see.

Bastian Schweinseteiger
Bastian Schweinsteiger - The Kaiser  
For all the praises lauded to our scoring midfield last season, it's fair to say that we remained a midfield short on authority. Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera are simply too nice. The former hardly smiles but has such a caress on the ball that its impossible to be a hard man. Not that he has to anyway. The latter smiles only a little less than Chicharito even though he gets stuck in more than anyone else in the squad.

Enter 30 year old injury prone Bastian Schweinsteiger. Any attempt to describe the World Cup winner would be an insult to the readers. We all know who he is and more importantly what he brings to the side. Perhaps a less known virtue is that Bastian's arrival immediately adds swagger to a United midfield that was perhaps a little short of it last season. Bastian is the kind of player you look at in the tunnel and think'F***!' His presence in that midfield is enough homework for any opposition and consequently improves the prospects of those playing besides and ahead of him.

You would imagine Louis van Gaal has such an understanding with him to know when to use him and when to rest him at keep him fit for as long as possible. There are no winter breaks in England, something he will not have experienced in his playing career despite 500 games for Bayern Munich. Easily an A-list signing if United keep him fit for most of the season.

Morgan Schneiderlin
Morgan Schneiderlin - The insurance
Remarkably, United have also ensured that the Kaiser is not their only midfield go to guy to ease the burden on Michael Carrick. In Morgan Schneiderlin, it is assumed that United have finally got the like-for-like replacement for Michael Carrick. Morgan, at 24, remains developing but he is easily one of the more accomplished midfielders in Europe. The biggest attraction about him is that he is categorised as a home grown player comes as a tried and tested Premier League player having made Southampton one of the most difficult sides to beat in his time there. Bar a radical shift in systems and tactics, he should be the one that gets to slot in much easier and get comfortable much faster. The boss has already made it clear to Morgan that among all his signings so far, he is the one that shall not be expected to struggle because of his familiarity with the league. No pressure then, Morgan.

THE VERDICT SO FAR
In comparing the need as against the acquisitions, United have addressed most of their pressing concerns ahead of the season. The club now boast one of the best midfields in Europe let alone England and the defensive cover from midfield almost certainly means the defence, however, fragile, is now under much more protection.

There is however popular concern about the attack and the injury record of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at the back. If midfield improves its goal tally from last season owing to better security at the back and a licence to roam, that need may yet be negated. The important question though should be whether United can still afford to go into another season with 'ifs' and 'maybes' hanging around the team. It's now 24 players out the door since Louis van Gaal took charge of the team. This is now very much his team and therefore the margin for error/excuse has considerably shortened.

It is therefore just as well that United's transfer business is, presumably, not yet done.





   

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