Manchester United will need to act quickly and decisively if they wish to land the world-class talent of Angel Di Maria after Real Madrid coach Paul Clement indicated all of Los Blancos' players are set to remain at the club for the start of the season.
Clement spoke to the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast show on talkSPORT, as reported by Alex Varney:
As far as we know at this stage everyone will be with us for this season. Things can very quickly change - the window doesn’t close until the end of this month. But currently we have 20 outfield players and three goalkeepers, so it is not a big, big squad.
While Clement left a smidgen of wiggle room for clubs who want to snap up Madrid's stars, he also noted he "can't see too much movement because that is not a large squad."
Such comments will act as a rallying cry for those who wish to pursue Di Maria. Louis van Gaal recently name-dropped the Argentinian when speaking about United's lack of wingers who operate at "the highest level," per Sky Sports. This may have been a hint toward the Dutchman's future ambitions, as United are yet to truly set the transfer window alight.
Many were expecting at least one marquee signing, but this is yet to happen. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw have the potential to be excellent investments and will be pleased with their contributions across the club's pre-season tour of America. That said, Van Gaal's squad is missing decisive wingers, a midfield battler and cover in defence.
Di Maria's versatility makes him an attractive prospect. He can play on either flank, just behind the striker or in a deeper midfield role. The former Benfica star isn't proven at full-back, however, meaning Van Gaal may need to alter his 3-5-2 formation to accommodate such an arrival.
The new manager's willingness to play three centre-backs also ensures United need to quickly reinforce their defensive personnel. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have all departed over the summer, leaving the squad thin at the back. Should Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans or Phil Jones pick up an injury—as they all have done in recent times—United will be in trouble.
Portuguese newspaper O Jogo suggests the club is ready to sign Marcos Rojo, who would arrive for in the region of €20 million, translated via 101 Great Goals. Rojo would be a useful addition to United's cause, especially as the 24-year-old is adept at playing left-back or in the centre.
An approach would also make sense now that United have missed out on signing Thomas Vermaelen, who recently joined Barcelona from Arsenal, per BBC Sport. Van Gaal certainly needs left-footed cover for Shaw and his centre-back trio.
Football writer Jan Hagen questions whether Rojo would be the right man for United:
Reports continue to suggest the side will launch a bid for Juan Cuadrado, reported by Sport and El Mundo Deportivo, via 101 Great Goals. The Colombian would offer United a new right wing-back option and could also be utilised as a winger if Van Gaal switches his tactics up. His €50 million price tag is a travesty, though.
It's obvious the club needs to strengthen ahead of Saturday's Premier League kick-off with Swansea, meaning rumours will continue to swell. Van Gaal must be forthright if he wishes to sign Di Maria, but he will certainly be weighing up his options when it comes to Rojo and Cuadrado. Both offer quality but appear overpriced.
Despite an excellent preseason, it will only take one competitive loss for onlookers to ask questions of this United side. Van Gaal must fill the squad out with quality and would do well to land at least one world-renowned name before the window closes. A failure to do so could lead him down the same path as David Moyes, leaving United well short when the real action begins.