Manchester United face the unwanted situation of having nothing to play for with a month of the season remaining.
Despite David Moyes' best efforts, the Red Devils look set to miss out on Champions League football after being eliminated from the current competition by Bayern Munich. Winning this year's tournament was a final lifeline for the Scottish manager, whose team are seven points adrift of Arsenal in the race for Premier League fourth.
David McDonnell of the Mirror believes United "must spend up to £200 million this summer" if an immediate return to Europe is going to happen. He also suggests the "current squad will be playing for their futures" during the five-game run-in, a sentiment echoed by Darren Fletcher, who rallied his team-mates ahead of the final four weeks:
"It is time to show the manager that you deserve to be at this club," said the Scottish midfielder, reported by Ian Ladyman of the Daily Mail. With many players potentially facing a future away from Old Trafford, let's take a look at the world-class stars who Moyes must sign in order to regain a much-needed Champions League place.
World-Class Players David Moyes Must Sign
Toni Kroos, Bayern Munich
Starting with the most obvious—and certainly most consistently linked—Toni Kroos would be an excellent purchase for Moyes. United are rumoured to be preparing a bid of up to £40 million in a saga that continues to twist and turn, reported by Alan Nixon of the Mirror.
Although McDonnell reports United chief Ed Woodward is in Munich to finalise a deal, the player's agent recently suggested his client will remain at Bayern until "at least" 2015, reported by Bild and via ESPN.
Kroos' versatility and all-round quality is worth investing in. At 24-years-old, he has developed into a mature player whose natural meticulousness ensures he keeps momentum moving with precise passing. His pass success rate of 92.7 percent for the season is quite staggering when you consider the amount of long balls he landed during the two recent Champions League ties with United, per WhoScored.com.
Kroos is a hard tackler, a goalscorer and can fulfil a plethora of duties in midfield or just behind the forward line. He flaunts multiple attributes of real quality, making him a perfect heart to Moyes' developing squad.
William Carvalho, Sporting Lisbon
If Kroos brings the classy distribution, William Carvalho brings the sheer power and physicality. The 22-year-old has emerged as one of Europe's top up-and-coming midfielders this campaign, helping Sporting to move eight points clear of Porto in Liga Sagres' second spot.
While Liam Prenderville of the Mirror believes United face a bidding war with Monaco for the Portuguese player's signature, Moyes would be wise to stump up the cash. The rumoured £37 million is hefty, but part of that is paying for potential, something Carvalho has already begun to deliver on, noted by 101 Great Goals:
Carvalho's qualities as a holding midfielder would finally address the lack of quality United have fielded across recent seasons. Tom Kundert listed "perfect positioning" and "composure" as his most obvious traits, while also highlighting the youngster's "imposing" build after watching him in the flesh on multiple occasions, per his column in the Mirror.
Kundert's verdict was as complimentary as they come:
"When I watch him I am left with the same impression I got when watching the young Angel Di Maria, Hulk or João Moutinho burst onto the Portuguese football scene. This is a very special player."
United need raw bulk in the midfield. You only have to look at Manchester City's Yaya Toure and Chelsea's Nemanja Matic to know size doesn't have to reduce athleticism, as Carvalho's mobility would also aid the creaking legs of players such as Michael Carrick.
Just having someone who could stride forward would make a difference. This type of signing is long overdue, something many United fans have acknowledged since well before Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day at the end of last season.
Eliaquim Mangala, Porto
Perhaps the least likely to join United of this trio is Eliaquim Mangala, Porto's all-action defender who is said to be capturing the interest of City and Chelsea, per Charles Perrin of the Express. The French centre-back is one of Europe's most sought-after talents and would be a real statement signing for the Old Trafford clan.
Which player do Manchester United need most?
Mangala possesses the leadership qualities to slot straight into a team that will no longer flaunt Nemanja Vidic. He is pacey, physical and an excellent tackler. The 23-year-old is also dominant in the air and an experienced Champions League player, ensuring he has the pedigree to thrust United back toward the aforementioned promised land.
United's defence has consistently lacked any sort of unity this campaign. Mangala would insert an assured presence into the lineup and is someone team-mates can rely on. Imagine his physical frame sitting behind Carvalho; the increased sense of power and work-rate would easily overshadow Moyes' current offering.
Defenders are sure to be a priority for the boss. Mangala should top his list of potential centre-back acquisitions, especially as the defender would represent an era of transition without compromising on world-class quality.