The Premier League’s big kick-off is just a matter of days away, and for Manchester United that means one thing: redemption.
With Louis van Gaal at the helm and a newfound optimism in the air around Old Trafford, United have a great chance to put their miserable 2013/14 season to bed this time around.
However, despite landing Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera in the summer transfer window, you get the sense that the Dutch manager needs to continue to spend in his bid for success, starting with two, big-name stars from Serie A.
Colombian Juan Cuadrado has been playing the rope in a tug of war between Europe’s elite clubs this summer, with several teams from around the continent chasing his signature.
Barcelona looked favourites to land the winger as a replacement for Dani Alves, but the pendulum now swings Manchester United’s way, as the La Liga giants have reportedly pulled out of the move.
Joaquim Piera of Spanish newspaper Sport revealed, via Ben Green of 101 Great Goals, that Barcelona’s interest in Cuadrado has now ceased, and they’ll be turning their attention to Sao Paulo’s Douglas instead.
Green writes that the Catalan club do not agree with the hefty price tag slapped on their star by Fiorentina—thought to be around €40 million—clearing the way for United to make their move.
While a staggering fee, Cuadrado proved during the World Cup that he could be worth every penny. But will he flourish in Van Gaal’s system?
The new United boss will likely field his favoured 5-3-2 formation with the Red Devils next term, meaning that Cuadrado would have to take a great chunk of defensive responsibility playing at wing-back.
While no one can question the 26-year-old’s ability going forward, it’s how he’ll cope on the defensive front that’s come under scrutiny lately—The Guardian’s Tor-Kristian Karlsen is one of many to have analysed Cuadrado’s prowess on the back foot:
Juan Cuadrado is a tremendously exciting player (pace, 1v1, goal scoring) but does strike me as a bit "unstructured" for a manager like LvG— Tor-Kristian Karlsen (@karlsentk) August 11, 2014
That being said, the Colombian has the ability to slot in anywhere in the front line, and his versatility is exactly what will have attracted Van Gaal to him in the first place.
On the right wing is where Cuadrado can hit devastating form, though, and Van Gaal’s system may well change if he lands a top-class wide man.
As the United boss told the Sunday Mirror, via Sky Sports, there’s a distinct lack of first-rate wingers in his side—a void that Cuadrado would certainly fill: “At this moment, we have five No.9s and four No.10s—and we don’t have wingers to give us attacking width. Or, I should say, we don't have wingers of the highest level.”
With the option to play a strong winger or two, Van Gaal may well adopt a different setup. Besides, if there’s one thing that David Moyes taught the world as United manager, it’s that playing your best players out of position can come back to haunt you.
Roma defender Mehdi Benatia is another who’s been linked with clubs left, right and centre, with Manchester United’s interest hotting up in recent weeks.
With both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand departing Old Trafford this summer, it’s clear that the Red Devils desperately need a new leader to bring them into the Van Gaal era, and Benatia is the perfect candidate.
It’s no surprise to see United targeting the 27-year-old, then, per Miguel Delaney of ESPN FC, but his services will come at an astonishing price.
Delaney writes that Benatia would set United back £30 million, and it seems that Roma will be doing everything in their power to keep him in the Italian capital, too.
As GianlucaDimarzio.com revealed, Roma manager Rudi Garcia told reporters at a press conference that the club rely on their star centre-back and said that you can’t believe everything that you read: "Did I talk to Benatia? It’s normal, we don’t come from different worlds. The media find hidden things that sometimes don’t exist. Yesterday I read that 99 percent he signed with anther club and today that 99 percent he stayed at Roma. I reaffirm that I rely on him."
Garcia will definitely be relying on Benatia with Roma back in the Champions League next term, and their stubborn nature with the sale could see him remain in Italy.
Whether he can add as much as Benatia remains to be seen, but the fact remains that United need to act fast on their hunt for a defender or it could be another season to forget at Old Trafford.