Why Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Would Be a Superb Signing for Manchester United

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Why Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Would Be a Superb Signing for Manchester United
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Any signings Manchester United make this summer must be able to fit into Louis van Gaal's newly introduced 5-3-2 formation—and that's why Fiorentina's Juan Guillermo Cuadrado would be a superb acquisition.

The Colombian was brilliant at the World Cup, starring in the group stages before tailing off slightly in the knockout rounds. He managed to pick up three assists during the tournament, per UEFA, and only Toni Kroos' total of four bettered that effort.

And according to Italian journalist Gianluca Di Marzio, United are set to make an offer for Cuadrado, in order to see off interest from Barcelona. (English version available here.)

Cuadrado is a pacy, direct wide man and, especially in games against defensively minded teams, his raw speed and dribbling ability would create space for those around him.

Another reason to sign Cuadrado is that he can play just about anywhere. As we saw with Van Gaal's Netherlands side at the World Cup, his players often lined up in a 5-3-2 before switching to a three-man attack later in the game.

Cuadrado would be able to make that transition seamlessly.

Indeed, WhoScored.com illustrates how Cuadrado played in eight different positions last season. That level of tactical versatility is rarely seen in the modern game.

Part of the explanation for Cuadrado's adaptability is that he's an extremely athletic individual. His main strengths—pace, power and agility—are traits that allow him to play in a number of positions.

And he has the technical ability to match.

Many wingers tend to have a trademark crossing style. Antonio Valencia favours a driven effort, Ashley Young opts for a floated type of cross, and Nani goes for pace.

Cuadrado's crosses are more varied, ranging from the low pull-back to the pinpoint curling delivery. His end product in the final third would be a significant upgrade from United's current wide men.

The one problem with signing Cuadrado is that he's not a defender by trade, and the role of a right wing-back involves a great deal of defensive work.

In United's pre-season tour of the United States, we saw one of the big problems with playing in a 5-3-2. When opposing teams played the ball out wide, the wing-back on that particular side was often forced to sit alongside the three central defenders, thus limiting how often he could get forward.

Teams might try to replicate that tactic next season, forcing United to play with a flat back five, and it's questionable that Cuadrado has the defensive mindset to play such a role.

But the other important aspect of playing in a 5-3-2 is teamwork. It's a formation in which all 11 players attack and defend together, and Cuadrado is very much suited to that style of play.

Think back to James Rodriguez's second goal versus Uruguay at the World Cup. Cuadrado rose at the back post, the goal beckoning, yet he opted to nod the ball down for James to slot home.

His selflessness in that type of situation would see him flourish for United on the right-hand side.

He would also give Van Gaal plenty of options. Rafael would be the defensive choice at right wing-back, Valencia would be the all-rounder, and Cuadrado would be the attacking selection.

And when you consider Rafael's proneness to injury, as well as Valencia's variable form, Cuadrado stands out as the lead candidate for that right wing-back spot.  

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

One of the problems with United's squad is that it's attack-heavy. Therefore, signing Cuadrado and playing him essentially in a defensive position could create further imbalances.

With the Colombian bursting forward, as is his tendency, one midfielder would need to provide cover. But United don't possess a defensive midfielder in their ranks, meaning that opposing teams could look to exploit the space left by Cuadrado when he surges upfield.

Yet when you contrast what Cuadrado offers against the lethargic and tired displays of United last season, it's impossible to ignore that the energy and dynamism he possesses would completely transform the side.

Sticking to that theme, Cuadrado would be a welcome sight in a United side desperately lacking in pace. Having him and Luke Shaw shuttling up and down either flank would offset some of the speed lost in playing some of United's forward players.

Whether Van Gaal decides to bid for Cuadrado or not, there's no doubt that he's a fantastic player.

The Dutchman could teach the Colombian how to play in his new system, using him as a right wing-back in a 5-3-2 and as a right-winger in a 4-3-3.

Cuadrado is like a blank canvas in that sense. He has all of the physical attributes you could hope for in a footballer, and his ability on the ball is such that Van Gaal can utilise him in whatever way he deems fit.

In a summer where United need to strengthen, signing Cuadrado would be a smart move.

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