Five Things Man United Need to Do in the January Transfer Window
Historically Manchester United haven't spent vast sums of money in the January transfer window. But then again, historically Manchester United haven't entered the New Year outside the top six.
Contrary to any rumours (usually from rival supporters, it has to be said) about United's owners, the Glazers, withholding transfer money and siphoning off large sums generated by the club to line their own pockets, United have got money to spend in the transfer window.
Whilst they lack the financial firepower to compete with Chelsea and bitter rivals Manchester City in the marketplace, United could still afford the vast majority of the world's elite football players.
The summer transfer window was a disaster for United. Having been linked to almost every world-class playmaker in the world, they eventually settled on Marouane Fellaini—paying far too much for a player who can't even force his way into the first team. They can't afford to make those kind of mistakes again.
If United bring in strong reinforcements, it could galvanise their campaign. Whilst a title challenge is surely out of their grasp, they could secure Champions League football and begin to build for next season. Get it wrong, and United could miss out on European football, losing revenue and making it more difficult to tempt new faces to Old Trafford.
With this in mind, the next month is arguably as crucial a period as any in their history. We look at five things United need to focus on in the transfer window next month.
Clear out the Deadwood
There are several players at Manchester United who are simply not good enough. Ashley Young, despite having a good couple of games (albeit by his phenomenally low standards), is not a good-enough winger for a top-four team. Tom Cleverley looks nothing like the player of two years ago and also needs to be shown the door.
Nani is another player that, despite having the ability to affect games, often fails to do so. He could benefit from a move away from the more physical Premier League over to the continent—the problem is finding a club willing to accept his wage demands.
As for Anderson, if United can find a buyer for this Christmas turkey, I'll pick him up from their Carrington training ground and drive him to the airport myself.
Sort out the Defence
At times, United's defence has been appalling this year. Having said that, it was poor last season too—but it didn't stop them winning the title by 11 points. So what's changed?
Well, a shoddy defence is not so much of a problem if you can score at will with attacking talent such as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. This season, with Van Persie injured, United have struggled to recreate their goalscoring form. When you can't score, you rely on your defence to win matches, and United haven't been able to do that.
United's defence has all sorts of problems. To begin with, there's a lack of talent. Nemanja Vidic is probably their only world-class defender, and even he has faced a rapid decline in recent seasons due to a series of injuries. Rio Ferdinand is approaching the twilight of his career, and Johnny Evans hasn't done enough to suggest he can take his place.
United look particularly soft when Vidic and Rio Ferdinand aren't in the side. The first two goals scored by Hull are great examples of United's frailties at the back.
United need another centre-back to add steel to their back line. They've needed this type of player for a while, but only now has it started to cost them points. United have been heavily linked with Eliaquim Mangala, though Porto will demand £40 million for the promising defender, according to espn.co.uk.
Then there's the problem at left-back. After publicly missing out on Leighton Baines and Fabio Coentrao, Patrice Evra doesn't have to be Hercule Poirot to figure out his manager lacks faith in his ability. United need to make a decision on whether to stick with Evra for the remainder of the season and concentrate on strengthening other areas, or to pursue a left-back to replace Evra and risk missing out on other transfer targets.
Decide on Rooney's Future
Given that Wayne Rooney spent all summer doing his best to engineer a move away from Old Trafford, I think it's fair to say that if United miss out on Champion's League football, he'll be less likely to sign a contract extension.
There's no doubt that Rooney has been United's best player so far this season. Not only is he their top scorer, he's also provided more assists so far this season than any other player in the Premiership.
With this in mind, it's vital for Rooney to stay at Old Trafford. United could offer him an improved deal by freeing up a portion of their wage budget through selling fringe players. The question will be whether Rooney sees United as a team in transition or a team in decline—and a lot will depend on who he sees the club buying in January.
But what if Rooney reiterates his desire to leave Manchester? Then United are faced with another decision—sell the player in January and get a large transfer fee or risk losing their best player for under £20 million in the summer when Rooney only has one year left on his contract.
Perhaps United's biggest priority this transfer window is convincing Rooney he can still win silverware and compete at the highest level at Old Trafford.
Sign a Creative Midfielder
Hardly a secret, this one. Anyone who has watched Manchester United this season can see that they are desperately lacking a creative player in the middle of the pitch. After missing out on Fabregas, Thiago and Modric in summer, some United fans believed Shinji Kagawa would step up and make the position in the middle of the park his own.
For whatever reason, that hasn't happened. It seems as though United and Kagawa are destined to never get along, and many sources, such as Dean Jones of Mirror Football, have already reported he could be a player on his way out in January.
One player United have been heavily linked with is Athletico Madrid midfielder Koke. Captain of the Spain Under 21 team, Koke is the top player for assists in La Liga. Given that Athletico's debt has forced a culture of cashing in on their best players, they may be forced to sell if United bids £25 million for him, as Metro reports.
Sound too good to be true? Well the issue is that Koke is a graduate of the Athletico Madrid academy and a lifelong fan of the club. Right now his team are closer than they've ever been to winning La Liga, and it seems unlikely he could be persuaded to leave midway through the season.
Do United wait until the end of the season to prize him away? Do they go for broke and try to sign him in January? Do they turn their attentions to another player?
Get a World Class Winger
United aren't short on wingers, but they are short on wide players with quality. It speaks volumes about their lack of talent in this area that their best winger so far this season has been 18-year-old Adnan Januzaj.
Considering that, under Moyes, the vast amount of United's attack comes from wide areas, a world-class player in this area would provide the team with the kind of attacking potency they've been lacking this season.
Marco Reus is one name that's been mentioned in the media. Reus is reportedly unhappy at Dortmund, but the Red Devils would have to activate a release clause just shy of £40 million to open contract negotiations with the player, according to Fox Sports.
Reus has bags of talent, as well as pace, and would seem well-suited to the Premier League. The question is whether United would feel comfortable breaking their transfer record for a player who is cup-tied in Europe until next season.