Why Manchester United Will Not Regret Their January Transfer Inactivity

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2016

United's existing players should see them through this season.
United's existing players should see them through this season.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Manchester United fans would have loved their team to make a splash in the January transfer window, but given the difficulties of attracting the very top players in mid-season, the club were probably right to hold fire.

It does seem as if they were looking to strengthen their ranks at full-back given the injuries they currently have in that position. Jack Wilson of the Star reported that they were interested in Southampton's Ryan Bertrand.

Ian Abrahams of talkSPORT was among those who discussed the club's reported interest in Omar Elabdellaoui of Olympiakos.

Then there was the story—as reported here by Darren Lewis of the Mirror—that Arsene Wenger had blocked a potential loan move for Mathieu Debuchy. 

While Louis van Gaal may come to regret not picking up additional cover, none of those are signings which would have set the pulses racing. And the Red Devils are actually pretty well stocked for full-back options.

That his thin squad would have had some degree of an injury crisis this season may have been predictable, but he has been unlucky at how specifically United's full-backs—and non-full-backs who have covered for the role—have fallen victim. Luke Shaw, Antonio Valencia, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young all currently have long-term injuries—per PhysioRoom.com.

However, for now Matteo Darmian is fit to play at right-back and seems to have found some form again. After an impressive start to the season, his form dipped as he dealt with injury and being switched to left-back.

Matteo Darmian in action against Stoke
Matteo Darmian in action against StokeJon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

However, he looked assured and comfortable against Stoke City and played an important part in United's second goal with his long pass for Juan Mata.

He needs to put some impressive performances together in succession, certainly, to offset the sense that he has struggled with the move to United. However, for now it looks like he may be over the worst of that dip. Indeed, his previous four games have each seen him achieve a performance score of above 7.0 on football statistics site WhoScored.com.

It is the first time since he has arrived at United that his scores have achieved that level of consistency.

And when and if he is absent, or needed at left-back, United can call upon Guillermo Varela, who so impressed against Derby County. Indeed, Varela's presence in the squad is one of the reasons United are in fact better off with not having brought in another right-back.

Giving Varela a chance of more first-team action could benefit the club a good deal more in the long run than bringing in a back-up for Darmian who would oust Varela from contention.

At left-back, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has fitted in at the top level in a manner which has belied his 19 years. Indeed, the youngster should now be ahead of Rojo or Daley Blind in the running to be first-choice back-up for Luke Shaw.

It may be pure sentiment, but the fact that he is a local lad who has come through United's ranks makes that all the sweeter, and bringing in another player who might halt his progression would be a shame at this point.

Of course, given his age, there will be bad games and poor performances to come, but the way he has fitted in to the first team has made his talent obvious.

Blind and Smalling attempt to deal with Ighalo back in November.
Blind and Smalling attempt to deal with Ighalo back in November.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

United were not seriously linked with any top-level centre-backs in this window, and Van Gaal appears to be content with the partnership of Blind and Chris Smalling. It is easy to see why. They have certainly had rocky moments, but for the most part they have done a decent job.

A very top-quality centre-back should be on the shopping list for the summer, but unless the club's scouting network had been able to identify the next Nemanja Vidic—who was famously a January signing—holding off until the season is over seems sensible enough.

Which brings us to the final area which United clearly need to strengthen—their front line.

This is, of course, being written in the wake of what was probably United's best attacking display of the season—the 3-0 home win over Stoke City. Wayne Rooney is finally bang in form, having scored seven in seven. Anthony Martial looks electric down the left, and Juan Mata's move inside to No. 10 is suiting both him and the team.

Mata and Lingard celebrate against Stoke.
Mata and Lingard celebrate against Stoke.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

What that game demonstrated—or at least hinted at—was that the style of play at United has been as big a problem for their attack as the personnel.

While it would have been superb if United could have signed Neymar or Gareth Bale, neither of those players were ever going to leave their illustrious clubs in January.

The attacking players who were linked with a move to Old Trafford in this window were of a much less impressive calibre. Sadio Mane of Southampton was apparently the subject of a failed bid, per Sami Mokbel of MailOnline.

Mane's current form hardly screams "guaranteed success at the top level of European football." With just three league goals this season—though six assists is worthy of a mention—it is hard to be convinced he is the answer to United's problems.

Portuguese newspaper Record (h/t Sport Witness) reported that United were interested in Islam Slimani. That would have been an intriguing signing, given how impressive he was during the 2014 World Cup, and his superb form this season (as Sport Witness point out, he has scored 17 goals in 18 games).

Slimani celebrates for Sporting.
Slimani celebrates for Sporting.FRANCISCO LEONG/Getty Images

However, it is hard to say with any certainty what the move to the Premier League would have done to Slimani. He certainly has the physical attributes to fit in, but it is hard to call his absence a regret given what a gamble it would have been.

Lewis of the Mirror reported that United had "declared their interest" in Ahmed Musa. The CSKA Moscow man definitely looked like a good potential signing, but like Slimani, Musa is not the superstar who could guarantee to improve United's level. 

Even though United have found a patch of attacking form, they would certainly benefit from an elite-level addition. That does not, of course, have to be someone who is already a superstar. Martial's arrival was a huge shock, at huge expense, but he is clearly a phenomenal talent, and United could have made a move along those lines in January.

Martial has been a big hit.
Martial has been a big hit.PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

But United's urgent need is not for additional squad filler. United's most urgent need is to find a way to get the best out of the talent that is already in place at the club. They should be active again in the summer transfer window as they continue the squad rebuilding job they have undertaken over the past couple of years. For now, though, getting the most out of Rooney, Martial and Mata should be the order of the day.

Increasing the involvement of Andreas Pereira and getting Adnan Januzaj back into action could benefit the side in the long run. That would have been even less likely to happen if they'd brought in a mid-ranking player who would have been ahead of them in the pecking order.

Van Gaal has to keep United's attack firing.
Van Gaal has to keep United's attack firing.Clive Mason/Getty Images

United are very unlikely to win the league from their current position, so the priority has once again become European qualification. If they cannot score goals or keep clean sheets between now and the end of the season with their current personnel, a tweak or two around the fringes of the squad would have likely made little difference.

The summer transfer window will no doubt see the return of the huge rumours, and bringing in truly great players in that window will be crucial if United want to compete at the highest levels again, but between now and the end of the season more rests on the manager and the team's style of play than rests on the exact make-up of the squad.

For this reason, barring another major injury crisis, they are unlikely to regret their lack of January activity for now.


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