Manchester United's new boss Louis van Gaal is still looking to significantly strengthen his first team ahead of the new Premier League season. The Dutchman seems to be keen on recruiting two big-name players if recent media reports are anything to go by.
Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado is a big target, with Anthony Chapman of the Express linking him with a £36million move to Old Trafford, whilst Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria is reported to be a £55 million target by the same source.
They are two big talents, no doubt, as well as costly ones, but they are also two players who would fit into van Gaal's side nicely in his pre-season 3-5-2 formation, as well as allowing United tactical flexibility elsewhere.
Colombian wide man Cuadrado generally plays in the attacking line of three for his club, as he did for his nation during the World Cup in a wide right role, but he is no stranger to playing as a wing-back—the natural position he would take up in a 3-5-2.
Cuadrado has pace to burn, but also is a great athlete, showing terrific stamina levels, an ability to play on the run and aid transition phases by reacting quickly to move himself from middle to final thirds of the pitch.
Antonio Valencia has generally started as the wing-back in pre-season but lacks the form and consistency of two or three years ago, having at best an up-and-down time last year. Rafael is the other option, but has been injured and played little part in pre-season. Cuadrado would be a significant upgrade on both.
As for Real Madrid midfielder Di Maria, he might now be largely seen as a wide forward as he has played there for Real, but last season he reverted to his initial position: a central midfielder with an unstoppable engine, fantastic energy levels to press, challenge and then attack constantly, and of course that wonderful level of technique which makes him such a wanted man.
United's three-man defence negates the need to have an out-and-out defensive midfielder as one of the double pivots. Instead, what they have largely utilised in pre-season has been one box-to-box player—Darren Fletcher has impressed most often here—and a central midfielder to continually receive and release possession. This, of course, will be new signing Ander Herrera.
Bringing in Di Maria to play alongside Herrera would give United an enormous threat on the counter-attack, making the most of Di Maria's great work-rate and his acceleration forward into space, linking play as he moves forward.
Not a box-to-box midfielder in the usual sense, Di Maria is a midfielder who tracks back, hassles opponents off the ball in the middle—and bursts forward as soon as the ball is won, happy to take possession as he breaks into the final third.
3-5-2 and 4-3-3
The two players would not only give Manchester United terrific quality on the field, they are both also extremely versatile to give van Gaal plenty of options to make tactical switches at will.
The Dutch manager, of course, has favoured 4-3-3 at club and country level for years and Cuadrado's pace, goalscoring threat and ability to run with the ball at defenders make him a natural fit for the right side of the front three whenever van Gaal opts to switch to that system. He would also be a threat cutting in from the opposite flank.
Di Maria, meanwhile, has played out several seasons at Real Madrid as a right-sided attacker, cutting in to dribble at the defence and shoot, though could of course also play left wing without any problem whatsoever—or stick in his central midfield role as one of the three.
All told, these would be two extremely expensive deals for United to wrap up—but which would also offer a huge return in terms of on-pitch quality and contribution in the final third.