Would Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado Improve Manchester United?

Chris Winterburn@Chriswin4Featured ColumnistJuly 24, 2014

Manchester United are currently in a period of transition following the departure of David Moyes and the subsequent arrival of Louis van Gaal. As such, personnel changes have to be made.

One of the main criticisms of United's play throughout the 2013-14 season was a lack of creativity and consistency from the wide areas. This meant when Didac Peyret of Spanish newspaper Sport (in Spanish) reported United had made a bid in excess of £27 million for Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado, there wasn't a great element of surprise. But is Cuadrado the right player to improve United's fortunes?

Cuadrado joined Fiorentina from Udinese in 2012 under the terms of a co-ownership deal and has since been a revelation for Vincenzo Montella's side. Renowned for his lightning pace, Cuadrado has often been mistaken for a one-dimensional player heavily reliant on speed. However, that is not the case.

As one of the stars of Colombia's highly impressive World Cup squad, Cuadrado has proven to be far more technically gifted than previously given credit for. Of course, whilst his speed is an important aspect of his game, it is his footballing brain which has impressed.

Cuadrado is capable of beating a defender in a one-on-one encounter, then cutting inside and providing a clever reverse pass in behind a stretched defensive line to create a chance for his team.

With Fiorentina boasting two incredibly gifted finishers in their forward line in Mario Gomez and Giuseppe Rossi, Cuadrado's ability to take defenders out of the game and find key passes has been integral to the side's attacking success this term.

United endured a disastrous 2013-14 campaign, and much of that was down to an inability to consistently produce any sort of quality from the wide areas of midfield. Ashley Young and Nani bore the brunt of much of the supporters' ire, whilst Antonio Valencia was seldom played in the same position from one game to the next, given David Moyes' indecision over whether he was a winger or a full-back.

United's lack of creativity from the wings was illustrated to an almost embarrassing degree during the 2-2 draw with Fulham at Old Trafford in February, with former coach and then-Fulham manager Rene Meulensteen going as far as labelling United's attacks "straightforward" when talking to the BBC.

United simply couldn't find any deviation in their methods, every attack that afternoon came from the wide areas but was almost identical to the last, there was no incisiveness and no real aim. It was a prime example of hit-and-hope football, fire a cross to the back post and hope for the best.

Needless to say there will be no such football under Van Gaal's watchful eye.

The question is whether or not Cuadrado would actually be an improvement on United's current crop of faltering wingers. His stats for the 2013-14 Serie A campaign provided by Squawka suggest so.

Using Squawka's Comparison Matrix, we can see how Cuadrado compares to United's wingers over the past season.

One of the main criticisms of United's wingers was how few chances were created from that area. As we can see Young, Nani and Valencia have created seven fewer chances than Cuadrado alone. Adnan Januzaj, one of the few bright sparks of United's season, managed to create 31 chances himself, just under half of Cuadrado's 60.

Of course it must be taken into account that Cuadrado played in far more matches due in part to a lack of direct competition at Fiorentina and also a pure lack of consistency and fitness amongst United's wide midfielders.

A lot of pressure was put on Wayne Rooney to deliver for United last season. Much of this was due to his team-mates not contributing as much as necessary. It was no coincidence that in Robin van Persie's numerous absences, when Rooney was not in form, United's play collapsed within itself.

If we look at the number of both key passes and successful take-ons from Cuadrado's campaign, we see a player more than contributing to a team's play. He is dictating it.

The Colombian produced 118 successful take-ons in Serie A last year, whilst all United's wingers combined produced 117, and in truth, it is 19-year-old Januzaj who is carrying the team in that category with 51.

The overall lack of attacking flair amongst United's wingers last year was astounding, and the addition of Cuadrado would boost the creativity from the flanks significantly. The number of key passes—i.e. crosses and passes in the final third—produced by Cuadrado was more than double any of Young, Valencia or Nani with the Colombian registering 55.

Cuadrado carried on his good form at this summer's World Cup in Brazil according to statistics provided by WhoScored.

Another key aspect to Cuadrado's game is his positional versatility. He is able to play anywhere down the right or perhaps even left flank. Often deployed as a wing-back for his country to accommodate the array of attacking talents currently available to Colombia, Cuadrado would slot seamlessly into Van Gaal's 3-5-2 system used in yesterday's pre-season friendly match against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Luke Shaw looked at home on the left-hand side whilst Valencia struggled on the right. Cuadrado would bring a familiarity to the role as well as a sizable boost in productivity going forward, although it remains to be seen whether Van Gaal will stick with this system as pre-season progresses.

Manchester United are not the only interested party, though.

FC Barcelona and Bayern Munich have both been linked with Cuadrado this summer, although the German champions have since denied a move will be made for the player.

Sergi Font of Marca made Barcelona's interest in Cuadrado clear with the key sticking points being the 40 million required by Fiorentina and the future of Dani Alves, whom Barcelona want to replace with Cuadrado in the wing-back position.

Luis Enrique is looking to capture Cuadrado to strengthen the right-back position, even though the player is more used to playing further up the field in Italy.

Nevertheless, his position is currently occupied by Dani Alves and Martín Montoya.

In addition, Barca aren't prepared to pay such a large sum for the player.

Van Gaal has said he will give every player a chance to show him what they are capable of before he dips into the transfer market, and he has stuck to his word thus far. However, with the Premier League season less than a month away, speculation is only likely to increase.

In Januzaj, United have a potential world-class winger, his numbers last season were impressive for someone of such tender years and relatively meagre game time, but he cannot be United's only source of creativity from that area.

The arrival of Cuadrado would significantly improve United not just in terms of attacking productivity but also in terms of versatility. 

However earlier this morning Van Gaal bemoaned the lack of defenders in his squad,

I have no more defenders, so I have to pick a player [Darren Fletcher] who can do the job. He is not so suitable for this position.

As a result it is likely we will see the defence strengthened before any other area.


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