Top 5 Issues Manchester United Must Address in the Summer
There is no getting away from the fact the 2013-2014 campaign was Manchester United's worst since the 1990-1991 season—where United finished sixth—with criticisms being made of the lack of quality in midfield and consistency in defence.
The departure of Sir Alex Ferguson's hand-picked successor David Moyes has seen Louis van Gaal take the reins at Old Trafford and there is plenty for the Dutchman to address if United are to return to the Premier League title picture next term.
There has been much talk of bolstering both the midfield and forward line but just what are the top issues Manchester United need to address this summer?
Honourable Mention: Sign a Striker
There are issues within the Manchester United squad that fall just below the five most important for Louis van Gaal to address, with particular reference being made to strengthening the forward line.
Edinson Cavani was a player heavily linked with Manchester United earlier this summer however Chris Richards of the Mirror claimed yesterday (June 12th) that the club had withdrawn their interest in the Uruguayan forward due to his excessive wage demands.
Whilst Manchester United did struggle to find the net at times last season, particularly in Robin van Persie's absence, purchasing a striker is not of great importance.
The club has in fact struggled to give all of the current forward line regular game time over the past 12 months and with young James Wilson likely to be brought into the first-team squad this summer, adding yet another striker—and a costly one at that—wouldn't be the best move.
No. 5: The Full-Backs
Manchester United have been covered at both the right and left full-back positions for a number of seasons with Patrice Evra having been outstanding for the majority of his Old Trafford career and Rafael da Silva having eventually taken the mantle from Gary Neville after a difficult start.
However, as we approach the 2014-2015 Premier League season, it is an area which troubles Manchester United supporters.
Patrice Evra as a 33-year-old can no longer be as efficient in both attack and defence as he once was. A prime example of this came in the Allianz Arena when Evra's fatigue in the latter stages allowed Arjen Robben multiple unchallenged runs at the heart of the United defence.
Luke Shaw is expected to sign for United after the World Cup according to Mark Ogden of the Telegraph and given Shaw's tender age of 18, this move would give United a top quality player at left full-back for at least the next seven years.
On the right it is a different story. Rafael is easily good enough to be Manchester United's first choice full-back, but his struggles with recurring injuries over the past two seasons have been a cause for concern. Not least because there isn't a backup right-back in the squad.
As a result, a lot of pressure has been placed on Chris Smalling and Phil Jones to fill in at right-back, which isn't doing their long-term development much good at all; but we'll come to that later.
Louis van Gaal needs to identify a right-back who can challenge Rafael for the starting position. This competition within the squad is sure to boost performances and it came as little surprise when Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail reported United's interest in Bacary Sagna.
With Sagna having now officially signed for Manchester City it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Van Gaal turned to his fellow countryman Daryl Janmaat of Feyenoord to provide a challenge for Rafael at full-back.
No.4: Managing Wayne Rooney
There are very few players who split opinion amongst their own club's fanbase quite like Wayne Rooney.
Following multiple transfer requests, both followed by blockbuster new contracts, Rooney has become somewhat of a target for United supporters frustrated at the team's fortunes.
On the pitch there can be little criticism of Rooney's effort with the former Everton man putting in a string of top quality performances prior to the Christmas break which kept United ticking over.
Fitness worries were an issue after Christmas and the addition of Juan Mata in January only further served to remind us of Rooney's apparent unwillingness to change position.
Under Van Gaal, Rooney will be given no choice. With Van Persie most certainly set to be the first choice centre-forward, the only available position within the Dutchman's favoured 4-3-3 formation is at the heart of midfield.
Rooney has all the skills to play as a deep-lying-playmaker but in the latter days of Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure, appeared unwilling to do so.
With Rooney the highest earner at the club the new manager has to approach the issue carefully.
Whilst Wayne Rooney is a key member of the squad he cannot stand in the way of what is best for the team, which he arguably did near the end of last season with Juan Mata forced to occupy an unfavoured position on the wing.
Louis van Gaal will have a big challenge to persuade Rooney to move into midfield straight away and the way he handles United's star man could have a sizeable bearing on the club's fortunes next year.
No.3: The Centre-Halves
Manchester United were uncharacteristically poor defensive last season. The departures of veterans Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic respectively aren't likely to aid this increasingly worrying situation.
In Phil Jones, Sir Alex Ferguson suggested to The Guardian that Manchester United could have a player set to become the club's best ever footballer,
The way he is looking, he could be our best ever player. He may be one of the best players we have ever had, no matter where we play him.
At 21 years of age, he is going to be a phenomenal player. He can play anywhere on the pitch.
He has such a massive influence, with his instinct and reading of the game. He has a drive about him.
In the 12 months since then, the 22-year-old's development has stagnated somewhat. The forceful manner in which Jones approaches every single match has caused him countless injury troubles and having to repeatedly fill in at right-back every other week is unlikely to do any player too much good.
Phil Jones is at his very best when playing at the heart of the defence. He can read football matches as well as a young Ferdinand and has the physical attributes to match.
In Jonny Evans, United have an experienced, talented central defender, but is he world class? Probably not.
With Vidic and Ferdinand departing this summer there is a lack of top class defenders at Old Trafford and you feel Van Gaal has to recruit one in order to bolster United's strength at the back as well as boosting the development of Jones and Smalling.
Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund would fit the bill perfectly. An elegant centre-half who can marshal a whole defensive line. Hummels has had his own fitness worries in the past but has been arguably Dortmund's most important player for three years.
It would in all likelihood be a costly move with the German giants unwilling to sell, as Sky Sports reported in May. However, if there is any possibility that Dortmund could be persuaded to sell, United should certainly try and explore this option.
No.2: The Wingers
Manchester United currently have a group of talented, if incredibly frustrating wingers.
Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani are all capable of moments of magic when in good form however struggle significantly with consistency. The standards of performance can be wholly different from one week to the next and for Manchester United that simply won't do.
United supporters are just escaping the hangover like period of having Cristiano Ronaldo at the club. Players have played in Ronaldo's position since his departure in 2009 and have unfortunately faced comparisons. In truth United have lacked a direct attacking winger since Ronaldo.
Adnan Januzaj is a player in this mould, but has had to be managed carefully in his debut season at Old Trafford, something which David Moyes can be given great credit for.
Wilfried Zaha on the other hand was barely given a chance despite looking like the perfect attacking winger to solve United's consistency problems in the position. It was of course a lot to ask of a 20-year-old but the lack of both opportunities and thus development for Zaha has been a source of great disappointment.
Interestingly, however, one of the most important positions in Van Gaal teams of days gone by has been the wingers. The Dutch coach prefers wingers who attack directly and great importance is placed upon wide players in his system.
The styles of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia are not likely to fit with Van Gaal's preference for quick footed, direct wingers and it wouldn't be a surprise to see both relegated to rotational squad status or even exiting the club.
United have been linked with Yevhen Konoplyanka in recent weeks with ESPN's Richard Jolly suggesting the club are ready to battle the likes of Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham Hotspur for the Ukrainian's signature.
Konoplyanka is a winger who fits seamlessly into the mould of van Gaal's preferred winger. He is quick on the ball, difficult to dispossess and a player who only has a focus on attack.
This is a skill set United have lacked in the wide areas for a number of years and the addition of Konoplyanka, and possibly a further winger, would improve the balance of United's team sizeably.
No.1: Replacing Roy Keane
Manchester United's inability to restructure the middle of midfield has been a cause for concern amongst the Old Trafford faithful for a number of years now. It goes as far back as the departure of Roy Keane.
One of Manchester United's most influential footballers has never truly been replaced. Owen Hargreaves appeared to be the heir to Keane's throne with a string of fantastic performances in the 2007-2008 season but injuries from then on brought his United career to a premature end.
United were poor defensively last season and much of that was a direct result of not having a holding midfielder in the squad.
Michael Carrick attempted to fill this role admirably but struggled. At 32-years-old, Carrick is not capable of holding a midfield together on his own. With a holding midfielder crucially important in van Gaal's 4-3-3 system, it is an area the Dutchman needs to look to strengthen in the transfer market.
The holding midfield role is one of the most underappreciated positions in world football, which is a surprise considering very few teams in the modern era go on to win the European Cup without one.
Natural holding midfielders provide an extra layer of protection for the defensive line and they can stop attacks before they reach the penalty area.
Manchester United's back four were guilty of charging out of position to try and close down attacks last season and as a result left huge gaps at the back which lesser teams exploited. A holding midfielder would stop the centre-halves from doing this and United's defensive structure would improve.
Marouane Fellaini has all the physical attributes to excel in this position but for whatever reason has failed to make an impact at Manchester United. With a natural holding midfielder preferably being a strong player physically, in the mould of Gilberto Silva, a perfect signing for United could be Wolfsburg's Luiz Gustavo.
The 26-year-old Brazilian impressed with Bayern Munich in the treble winning season of 2012 but was then rather unceremoniously off-loaded to Wolfsburg. Louis van Gaal has an exceptional knowledge of the Bundesliga and will be fully aware of Gustavo's qualities.
He could be the extra protection United's defence needs as well as being a leader on the pitch, to cajole the team through difficult periods where last season they just folded.