Manchester Utd: 5 Players David Moyes Could Sign to Complement Cristiano Ronaldo
New Manchester United manager David Moyes has some big decisions to make this summer, not least of all who to restructure his squad with as he looks to start a new era at Old Trafford with success.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been widely linked with a summer return to his former club, as reported by the Daily Mail, but Moyes would still have further work to do to ensure he could get the best out of the Real Madrid star if he were able to seal that particular deal.
With Ronaldo typically occupying an extremely attack-minded role on the left side, United would have to tactically and technically balance their team to be able to support him in attack, cover for him in defence and ensure he gets to see plenty of the ball.
Keeping United lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as was used by them on many occasions last season and which is a formation Moyes has utilised in large part, too, here are five players that United should target to help Ronaldo flourish on his possible return.
Leighton Baines is widely acknowledged to be one of the top left-backs in the Premier League these days, and there has been plenty of speculation that he will be one of the players to follow Moyes in departing Everton for Manchester United.
Mirror Football are amongst those reporting that Baines is a serious target and that Patrice Evra may be returning to Monaco to pave the way for Baines' signature being confirmed.
In terms of complementing Ronaldo, the left-back operating behind the Portuguese attacker needs to be very solid defensively, able to hold up opposition attackers until assistance can arrive from alternative areas of the pitch. He must also be able to link up well going forward and keep the width in the middle and final thirds.
Baines is very reliable when going forward with the ball, he overlaps his partner down the left with great frequency and can deliver telling crosses, too—another potential link-up, with Ronaldo being so strong in the air.
A year ago, United found the reserves of cash and the appeal of the club enough to swipe captain and star forward Robin van Persie from rivals Arsenal.
If they set their mind to do so, they could certainly repeat the trick with Santi Cazorla. Gunners fans would be distraught at losing another top player to their rivals, and certainly there are no contract constraints, which meant they had no control over the van Persie deal, but would the player himself be inclined to force a move?
For United, playing a 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo on the left, he acts as a supporting forward when cutting in from the flank.
The central attacking midfielder, then, needs to act as more of a conduit of United's play rather than someone who will look to bomb on as a second forward at every opportunity. Cazorla fits the bill perfectly, acting as the playmaker but also able to have a goal threat from range or breaking into the box late on in attacking moves.
In addition, the fluidity of the team would be greatly improved on those occasions where Ronaldo remains central, as Cazorla is vastly experienced in playing from the flank himself and moving back to help the defence.
United would have plenty of other options if they wanted a central attacking midfielder—not least of all their own Shinji Kagawa—but Cazorla offers great technique, tactical ability, work rate, quality and, above all else, he would significantly weaken an opponent if he left.
We'll start the other way around this time, analysing what United need to offer in the team to complement Ronaldo.
For some time, the centre of their midfield has been the subject of criticism and speculation over who might be signed to strengthen it—this despite United winning the league easily last season with their supposedly suspect centre of the park.
There's no doubt, however, that it is not as dynamic as certain other teams' and that if the entire XI wasn't so functional as a unit, it might not quite be strong enough to keep them at the top (as evidenced by their relative lack of success in the Champions League over the past couple of seasons).
With Tom Cleverley or Michael Carrick playing in the distributing, deeper role—not that the former is exactly defensive-minded, but he could benefit from operating in more space instead of having to be the constructor going forward all the time—United could use a real force of nature alongside them.
Someone who can get forwards at pace and recover defensively in transition periods. A midfielder who is honest enough about his responsibilities within the tactical framework of the team and who could cover tracking back for Ronaldo down the left channel at times. And, of course, someone who could do all that without compromising on quality on the ball and decision-making ability.
The name highest on the list who fits that particular bill might just be Shakhtar Donetsk's Fernandinho.
If United were to sign a player of his caliber for the left side of central midfield, it would grant Ronaldo so much more licence to merely attack and wreak havoc. It would give Ronaldo peace of mind with the knowledge that behind him was someone to stop all counter-attacks as they were being made, someone who would be good enough to receive the pass from the attacker as he moved infield whenever required.
The Old Trafford side would have to move quickly, though. Fernandinho is rumoured to be a big Manchester City target that they are close to signing, according to the Telegraph. Which club would the Brazilian choose, given the choice?
A bit of a cheat here, of course, in that Wilfried Zaha has already signed for United and he will be joining up with them after the Under-21 European Championships.
However, there has been talk amongst supporters that Zaha might be allowed to move on loan to a Premier League club—perhaps even Crystal Palace, a team he just helped to promotion to the top flight—to gain some regular game time instead of sitting on the Old Trafford bench.
Preseason might tell David Moyes more about the young winger than he already knows, but if Zaha can make a big enough impression, then he could be one of the early new faces of the Moyes era.
For Ronaldo—and for United to allow him full freedom to cut infield, pop up as a second-striker and be a threat on occasion through the middle (as he does at his best at Real Madrid)—the opposite flank of the attacking midfield trio needs to be someone who can keep the width and stretch opponents laterally and horizontally.
Zaha can certainly be capable of this, and with none of Nani, Ashley Young or Antonio Valencia exactly enjoying their best years last season, the right-wing berth is certainly one that could be up for grabs.
Finally, we'll look at the right-wing spot once more, but this time with the presumption that Zaha is indeed shipped out on loan for a year, leaving Moyes and United to search for an alternative signing in the mean time.
Zaha is a highly rated prospect that United have paid much money for, so they would not be likely to splash out another £18 or £20 million on another winger, especially considering the fee they would have to find to bring Cristiano Ronaldo to the club.
What they would require is a player who is more experienced than Zaha so he can come straight into the squad, fulfils a similar role tactically and who would not cost an absolute fortune yet is still technically good enough to play for the league champions, even if he does not have the biggest reputation.
They could therefore do far worse than take a look at Valladolid's German attacker, Patrick Ebert.
Ebert was one of the top attacking midfielders in La Liga during 2012-13 outside of those who are at the biggest two or three clubs, weighing in with six goals and seven assists for a side that ended the season in 14th place.
He's a good crosser of the ball, loves to get involved in the attack from the channels and is a real source of chances on goal both for himself and for teammates. Whether United or someone else goes for him this summer, Ebert will provide a very good signing at probably less than 10 percent of the fee United would have to pay to land Cristiano Ronaldo.