First things first, I am a Manchester United ZEALOT. They are my team for life. That being said, their performance today was incredibly sub par. I know it, you know it, and they know it.
Sir Alex will certainly ring the changes and give the squad a needed face lift. Barcelona exposed some holes in a United team that Sir Alex had done so well to mask throughout the entire year.
Areas of concern for United are in all thirds of the pitch. You may say, what is there to fix on a team that has won the Premier League three consecutive seasons, a team that won the Club World Cup, and won the Champions League last year?
Allow me to explain.
At a team such as United, it is as Black Thought says, "the best is that which I accept, and nothing less." If we do not win every championship it is a total failure. Here are some scenarios.
The first priority for United if they seek to win the Champions League next season is to sign a legitimate right back as a long term replacement for Gary Neville. Now don't get it twisted, I love Gary Neville for all of the work he has done for both United and England, but he is not the player he used to be.
John O'Shea cannot be considered our best right back either, because quite frankly, he does not have the quality to hold down the position in the long run. O'Shea's exceptional value to United is his ability to slot into any position and play an above average game. The light he provides is dimmed when he has to fill-in for a long period of time at one position.
Rafael surely has a bright future ahead of him, but he cannot be relied upon for next year as he is young and has much still to learn. Wes Brown, the right back of choice last term, is totally unreliable due to his inability to remain healthy. So given the inadequacies of what United has in it's squad at right back, who do they go after to fill the position?
My first choice would be Maicon of Inter Milan. He is a great two-way player who would fit well into the system Sir Alex employs. He will however not come cheap if at all as Mourinho is determined to keep him.
My second choice, of no fault of his own, is Bayern Munich defender Phillip Lahm. Lahm showed off his quality in the European Championships last summer and for an underwhelming Bayern Munich side in the Bundesliga. Surely he wants to move to a team with more stability and a team with a higher propensity for winning major trophies.
The second priority is finding a replacement for the old Ryan Giggs on the left wing to provide a threat from the wing that is not named Cristiano Ronaldo. Having a weapon reminiscent of the Giggs of the 90s would be just another feather in the attacking cap of Manchester United.
The current Giggs has been a revelation in central midfield, proving Ferguson's knack for placing players in the best positions for them to succeed. Nani, a 17 million pound signing looked to be a great signing in his first year at Old Trafford but has failed to impress many this season with his petulance and constant propensity to lose the ball as easily as Jay-Z dropped hits in the 90s.
Park Ji-Sung has had a banner year but still leaves something to desire with his lack of height and finishing ability. Some options for United lie in house, in January signing Zoran Tosic, Lee Martin, and possibly Rafael's twin brother Fabio. All of those are unproven commodities and are unlikely to see much action for a few more years.
In the meantime, United are trying to win more trophies and must look to a more experienced player to take up the role. Many believe that Franck Ribery would be the solution to that problem. I personally am a big fan of Ribery, being part French but also because his is a gamer who also happens to possess bags of skill.
Bayern are reluctant to sell their winger, and rightfully so. Bayern Chairman Franz Beckenbauer and Co. are refusing to sell Ribery for anything less than around 60 million pounds, a truly ridiculous sum. So with Ribery out of the question unless Ronaldo leaves, let us look at some other possible answers.
Being a supporter of the Oranje, names dear to my heart such as Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, who both look to be on their way out of the Santiago Bernabeu both come to mind as commodities to be seriously evaluated by the United brass. Robben would be available for around 25 million pounds, which is certainly not out of United's spending range. He is also a proven Premier League commodity having already won a few titles down at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea.
Another option, however remote, is Spanish wizard David Silva, who recently pledged himself to Valencia, but could be persuaded to leave if cash-strapped Valencia decide they need the money. The final rumoured option for Sir Alex is Antonio Valencia, who manager Steve Bruce has admitted that if a team offered the right sum, somewhere around 20 million pounds, that the Lancashire club would be hard pressed to turn it down. Valencia is only 23 years-old and has bags of potential.
Who knows what Ferguson could do with a talent like his.
The final third is also an area of concern for United. That's preposterous, you may be exclaiming. They just spent 30 million pounds for Dimitar Berbatov last season! They have Rooney! and Ronaldo! What more could anyone need!?! This is really only a need if the beloved Carlitos Tevez leaves United, which all signs are indicating that will be the case. Sir Alex has as delectable options as a hungry man at Popeyes.
The bonafide answer would be to sign Karim Benzema of Olympique Lyonnais. His shot is tastier than a three-piece of spicy friend chicken and is also lauded by many to have the potential to be as good as French legend Zidane. While that may be a bit of hype over reality, Benzema is no Travis Best. He would fit in well at United and has admitted a desire to head north and play for the boys in red.
Benzema should cost around 25-35 million pounds but would definitely be worth his weight in trophies. If Benzema is not the favoured option inside Old Trafford, United are thought to be interested in Eden Dzeko, a Bosnian striker who has starred for Bundesliga Champions VFB Wolfsburg, scoring 26 goals in league play, second only to teammate Grafite. Dzeko is only 23-years-old and would definitely be a piece for the future as well as the present.
Long term concerns for United include the fitness of central midfielder Owen Hargreaves and goalkeeper Ben Foster. If Hargreaves had been healthy for United, they never would have lost to Liverpool at Anfield and Old Trafford, and definitely would have put in a better performance in the Champions League final versus Barcelona.
As for Foster, if he wants to be the United and England No. 1 keeper he is going to have to prove to Sir Alex and Fabio Capello that he can remain healthy for a whole season. When he is on form, he is a fantastic keeper, as exhibited in the penalty shoot out during the Carling Cup Final versus Spurs. If those two remain unable to maintain fitness, Sir Alex may have to turn elsewhere. That, however, is a post for a time that I never hope comes to pass.
Manchester United's transfer policy has always been marked by their necessity to replace legends of days gone by. Sir Alex has probably felt like Ahab in Moby Dick searching for replacements for irreplaceable United greats like Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Peter Schmeichel, David Beckham, and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
Certainly players like Cristiano Ronaldo Michael Carrick, Owen Hargreaves, Wayne Rooney, Edwin Van Der Sar, etc. are no slouches and have provided United with another golden age reminiscent of Manchester United of the '90s.
Surely Manchester United are the greatest club in England, and when they decide to be, are the best club in the world. Mancs all around the world today are understandably frustrated with their team's performance, and rightfully so, but they should not fret about United reaching similar heights in the near future. Unfortunately United did not have a performance similar to that of '99 in their locker. Most teams never pull that off even once, let alone twice.
If I learned anything this year, we never dare to be anything but the greatest.