The Changes Manchester United Must Make to Become Champions League Challengers

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The Changes Manchester United Must Make to Become Champions League Challengers
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

There's an urban myth that when one Cambridge University philosophy student was asked "is this a question?" in an exam, they answered "yes, if this is an answer".

It was a question that was supposed to inspire deep thinking. One so complex it couldn't be answered with an off-the-cuff remark. Or so the story goes.

There are similar open-ended questions being asked about David Moyes' Manchester United

Chief among them, after a season that has lurched from crisis to crisis, is how United can return to the top? Top of the Premier League and challenging for the Champions League.

The short answer, the student's answer, is to sign better players. Simple.

Sign the best players in the world—Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and, if there's time, Javi Martinez—and watch the trophies roll in. But if it was that simple, everyone would do it.

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

That's why the question "what changes must Manchester United make to become Champions League challengers?" needs a more thorough answer.

That's not to say United don't need to strengthen their squad. They do. After all, trying to win the Champions League without a midfield is an idea that is unlikely to catch on.

But more than new players, United under Moyes need a plan. An identity. 

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The majority of United fans are not unreasonable. 

They understand that Moyes has taken an almost impossible job. They realise he's not the only one to blame for the frequent disappointments this season.

But the supporters won't be patient forever. And rightly so. 

They have become used to success and while no team has a god-given right to win, the infrastructure—the facilities, the commercial department, the revenue streams—have been developed to achieve just that.

The fans knew the first season after Sir Alex Ferguson would be a struggle. But what is most frustrating for many of them is that they are yet to see any progress. There's no obvious plan. No clear aims to be worked towards.

It looked like they had turned a corner at Crystal Palace

With Michael Carrick and Marouane Fellaini playing in deeper roles and Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney supporting Robin van Persie, they won comfortably.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

But against Olympiacos, it was back to a midfield four with Rooney playing behind Van Persie. The result was another turgid performance. Another defeat.

Even if United find a way to claw themselves past Olympiacos in the return leg at Old Trafford, they're unlikely to trouble the Champions League trophy engraver.

And it will take more than a few new players to change that next season. Whoever they are.

When Sir Alex Ferguson first won the Champions League in 1999, he did it with two wingers, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, supplying two strikers, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.

But when he won it again in 2008, nine years later, he had built a squad to carry out a different plan.

He signed Owen Hargreaves, Carlos Tevez, Nani and Anderson and beat Chelsea in the final playing with three central midfielders and a front three.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Ferguson identified a plan and built his squad accordingly. It wasn't as simple as splashing out on good players and hoping for the best. It was a formula based on finding the right players for the right system.

Moyes will be charged with rebuilding United's squad this summer. But he has to do it with a clear plan in mind.

Signing the best players in the world is the easy answer to United's problems. But it's as unrealistic as it is simple.

To return United to the top, domestically and in Europe, Moyes must first identify a direction. And only then start to build a squad to get them there.

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