Manchester United lost out on the Premier League title by way of goal difference last season.
It is therefore understandable that reports in the media are suggesting Sir Alex Ferguson is planning on adding another forward to his attacking artillery.
Robert Lewandowski in particular has long been linked with a move to Manchester United and the Daily Mail reports the Poland international yesterday saying:
“This (the Premier League) is a league that I would like to play in, and I hope it happens sometime. Although I am happy at Dortmund I always like to aspire to greater heights.”
The Daily Mirror has also claimed that United are tailoring a £20 million bid to secure the services of Robin van Persie. In fact, the paper suggests that Fergie believes it could already be a done deal.
A report on BBC Sport however suggests that the Mirror published the article too soon. Arsenal announced today that they have rejected a formal bid from Manchester United in the region of £20 million.
But, is there any need for Manchester United to invest substantial sums in a new striker?
With Dimitar Berbatov expected to leave the Red Devils before the end of the transfer window and veteran striker Michael Owen gone, you could argue yes. The Red Devils have lost both depth and experience in their firepower.
Nicky Powell is the only new acquisition up front but he will not bring the experience to Sir Alex’s squad that Berbatov and Owen once did. What’s more, the true extent of his talent is relatively unproven.
Lewandowski or van Persie on the other hand have a career history that could replace the experience Berbatov and Owen brought.
But neither of the two strikers were particularly well utilised last season. Is there really any need to replace them?
With or without Berbatov and Owen, Manchester United has one of the best attack forces in the Premier League. Only their city rivals, arguably, possess more firepower than them in the final third of the pitch.
Wayne Rooney is amongst the best strikers in world football. Love him or hate him, he has a solid goal-scoring record. The England international has scored 129 goals in 251 Premier League appearances for Manchester United.
In total the 26-year-old striker has netted 144 times in the Premier League; four less than Michael Owen and Les Ferdinand’s career totals.
Sir Alex also has Javier Hernandez at his disposal. The Mexican striker’s movement in the box is particularly impeccable and he has all of the potential to become one of the game’s leading poachers.
With that in mind, last season was underwhelming compared to his improbable debut season. Although hindered by injury, defenders are now standing that extra yard or two ahead of him. This, combined with an unreliable first touch, has made it harder for the young Mexican to work on but with pace and vision on his side, there is no reason to believe this is a problem he cannot work on.
Then, of course, there is Danny Welbeck. The 21-year-old enjoyed a successful breakthrough in United’s last campaign and has cemented a place in Roy Hodgson’s England team.
Question marks do remain over his goal-scoring ability; last season the academy graduate simply did not score enough. The same can be said of his loan spell at Sunderland in 2010/11.
A sublime goal against Belgium and a deft touch to secure victory over Sweden whilst on England duty does serve as proof that there is definite goal-scoring potential in Welbeck, potential that can only become fulfilled with more experience.
Federico Macheda continues to knock on Sir Alex’s door as well; the young Italian scored the only goal in United’s preseason win over AmaZulu on Wednesday.
With these players in mind, it is clear Manchester United already possess an intimidating strike force, but that did not prevent the Red Devils from being heavily dependent on Wayne Rooney last season.
Rooney netted 27 times in the league last season, Hernandez was the next highest scorer on 10. Compare that to Manchester City. Aguero scored 23 times, Dzeko 14 and Balotelli 13. Those figures alone emphasise the importance of delegating goal-scoring duties.
United’s dependence on Rooney may have been largely due to a long-term injury for Javier Hernandez, but it revealed with startling clarity that the league cannot be won with just one goal scorer alone.
Welbeck and Hernandez did not net enough last season and Macheda’s potential seems just as unknown as it was three years ago. Perhaps there is need for a striker after all.
Everyone knows the majestic season that Robin van Persie had last season, but not even a football fan’s memory is fickle enough to remember that his career has largely been defined by injury to this point.
Robert Lewandowski on the other hand is a different commodity. At 23 he is five years younger than van Persie and has won a league title at every club he has played for.
Further to this he has a tried and tested partnership with Shinji Kagawa, the Japanese playmaker who was equally as integral to Borussia Dortmund’s consecutive Bundesliga titles.
With these facts in mind, van Persie scored the same amount of league goals in one season as Lewandowski scored in two seasons. It would seem that both strikers would have their uses for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Stats and figures aside, how will a new striker impact upon United’s tactical game?
When Sir Alex plays with two strikers, he always tells one of them to drop deep a little bit. Along with a four-man defence, it is the biggest constant of his tenure at United.
Playing with a deep and advanced forward would complement Rooney’s game well. The 26-year-old likes to drop deep, whereas Lewandowski and van Persie are both adept at playing more advanced positions. There is great potential for link-up play.
Looking at the other side of the argument, Shinji Kagawa has built his reputation off playing in a similar position, which has become known as ‘the hole.’ Perhaps the arrival of another striker could compromise the very reason Fergie signed the Japan international.
Width is another recurrent feature of Ferguson’s tactics but none of United’s strike force is particularly tall. Neither Lewandowski or van Persie will fix that issue, but Rooney’s aerial game has improved considerably in recent seasons.
Assuming United need a striker, who should United Sign?
It is most likely that Ferguson will either deploy a 4-2-3-1 or simple 4-4-2 next season. Playing a more aggressive 4-1-3-2 midfield could bring about more goals, but it will leave Manchester United’s defence overly exposed.
The injury concerns that rest over Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand’s heads, combined with the inexperience of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, would make playing with a single central midfielder too risky.
A 4-2-3-1 on the other hand would leave the heart of the pitch fortified, whilst allowing creative freedom to the likes of Ashley Young, Nani, Antonio Valencia and Kagawa. If this system was to be deployed however, there would be no point in signing a new forward.
United would be playing with a single striker for most weeks and already have Rooney, Welbeck and Hernandez.
What a second striker would offer is a more complete 4-4-2 option. Such a formation would still allow United to use their wingers and could allow Rooney to drop a little deeper in a supportive role to van Persie or Lewandowski.
If a 4-4-2 was to be used more regularly than it was last season, signing another striker would be justifiable. Form and injury are two important variables in picking a strike force, the addition of another striker would stack the odds more in United’s favour. If another striker did not arrive at Old Trafford, Fergie’s desire to play a 4-4-2 would be compromised as soon as one of his strikers got injured.
On the topic of injury; what would happen if Rooney got injured and was forced to miss much of next season?
Welbeck does not score enough and Hernandez is at his best when poaching. With Macheda and Powell unproven, there is not a real goal-scoring option for the Red Devils to turn to.
From looking at these arguments, it seems that Sir Alex’s pursuit of another striker is justifiable.
A new addition up front would allow for more flexibility in making taking decisions, relieve pressure on Rooney to score goals, bring in more competition for places and add strength, depth and experience to United’s attacking department.
If City can win the league with four big-name strikers, why can’t United?