Manchester United Transfers: 10 Signings to Keep Sir Alex Ferguson in Trophies
With Manchester City holding firm at the top of the league, more and more column inches are being reserved for the usual writing of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United's chances for not only this season, but the future of football as a whole.
According to the assembled voices, we are about to see United drop dead from their newly conquered perch and fall into free-fall descent, entering another cycle of barren, trophy-less seasons. Could we be seeing the beginnings of the end for the Ferguson Old Trafford dynasty?
United have been here before of course in the post-Busby years, having been brought back to top by Sir Alex throughout the '90s. It is too soon to predict a slump from the top of same size and magnitude of Liverpool in the late '80s, but if United were to buy big in January in an attempt to stave off any such decline, who would be the ideal candidates?
Here are 10 players to keep Sir Alex Ferguson in trophies this season.
Defence: Mats Hummels
Over the past two seasons since transferring to Borussia Dortmund, Mats Hummels has established himself as the Bundesliga's leading centreback. Alongside the likes of Gerard Pique and Thiago Silva, the young German is fast becoming one of the most feared, respected and sought after young defenders in the world.
Tall, strong and quick, Hummels is also an elegant footballer, and would be both an excellent long term replacement for Rio Ferdinand, and a game raising competitor to Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones in the battle for starting places. In attack, the 22-year-old bombs forward, linking up play and invoking memories and comparisons to the German liberios of the recent-past.
A constant threat at set pieces, Hummels currently shares the highest number of headers on goal in the Bundesliga with striker Klass-Jann Huntelaar. Not bad for a defender. Not bad at all!
With the maturity, awareness and intelligence of a more senior and established player, Hummels has become an influential Marshall at the rear of Dortmund's back line, turning a once fragile defence into one of the meanest rearguards in the attack focused German league. Such clear-headed leadership has been missing from United's back four in the absence of Ferdinand and Vidic, and Hummels could be the young defensive lieutenant Sir Alex requires when the old heads are out injured.
A move to the English Premiership from the fast-paced, intense and technical Bundesliga should also be relatively easy transition. At 22, Hummels would have time on his side to further develop and grow as a world class player. Could he be the classy Cantona-esque catalyst to turn United's youthful potential at the back into a truly fearsome unit of the future?
Defence: Neven Subtotic
Playing alongside Hummels at the centre of Dortmund's defence, Subotic is another young defender at the top of many club's wish lists. His style of play is the perfect cross between Nemanja Vidic's commanding athleticism and the classy ball-playing pizzazz of Rio Ferdinand.
Born in Yugoslavia and raised in both Germany and the USA, Subotic is a regular fixture in the Serbian national team, often teaming up with Vidic before the United defender retired from international duty earlier this year.
With the young defender publicly announcing a desire to one day play in the Premier League, Fergie may be tempted to snap up the Dortmund defender, with or without his impressive partner in crime, Mats Hummels, before his domestic rivals can stake a claim.
In the case of either of Dortmund's young defenders signing for United, their presence in the centre of defence would mean that Jonny Evans could be deployed out on the left. This would not only allow Evans to make use of his impressive range of passing and ability on the ball away from the punishing glare of the centre, but also hopefully challenge Evra to regain his form of two seasons when he was arguably the best left back in the world.
Utility: Javi Martinez
Javi Martinez currently plays at the back for Marcelo Biesla's Athletic Bilabo as a skillful, defensive dynamo to drive his team's play forward and up the pitch almost like a modern day sweeper.
Martinez is a midfielder by trade however, with a fantastic engine, tidy technique and a good passing range. In the context of United's squad he would be a versatile, all action utility man, able to add steel and skill to United's midfield whilst locking down positions that lie deeper within the defense.
The absence of the dependable but put-upon John O'Shea is beginning to be felt by Sir Alex and his squad as the injury list blossoms in the run up to Christmas. Could the adaptable young Basque midfielder be a high-class answer to United's selection headaches?
Full-Back: Leighton Baines
At 26, Leighton Baines is coming into his peak. For Everton he has become a dependable servant at the back and a consistent, penetrative threat going forwards, producing the sort of performances that have granted him access to the forefront of England boss, Fabio Capello's mind.
Baines is a solid footballer and possible replacement for Patrice Evra, whose class has seemed to slip in recently. The Frenchman all too often leaves his flank open to attacks after dallying up field and has become something of a liability at times.
The purchase of Everton's first choice left back would be similar to United's summer capture of Ashley Young. As the old adage goes, "playing with better players makes you a better player," and the likes of Young, Jones and Cleverley are testaments to this within United's current ranks.
Baines, with his set piece strikes and deliveries, would also bring some added firepower to dead ball situations, an area that United would do well to further reinforce.
Full-Back: Cesar Azpilicueta
The second young Basque player on the list, Cesar Azpilicueta is a right side full-back currently playing for Olympique Marseille. His footballing career began at La Liga side Osasuna, where he became a stalwart on the right defensive flank.
Originally a midfielder, Azpilicueta was converted into an attack minded right-back, a shift of positions that has seen the young Spaniard thrive.
With Rafael and Fabio seeming to lack the stamina and fitness to finish games and maintain their availability, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have deputised as right-backs played out of their natural positions. Without a fully fledged, first choice right back, United's defensive roster looks incomplete.
With Marseille, Azpilicueta has further developed his craft as a full-back, picking up valuable experience in the Champions League along the way. Could he be another young recruit to United's latest batch of super kids?
Midfield: Yann M'Vila
Not a week goes by without another one of Europe's top clubs being linked to the young defensive midfielder, Yann M'Vila. Watching the the Frenchman play, it quickly becomes clear that such interest isn't build on the sandy foundations of unqualified hype.
M'Vila is a solid and intelligent operator adapt at breaking down play, winning back possession and distributing the play to and from his team mates as needed. His growing reputation has seen him compared to Patrick Viera and labelled as the natural progression on from Claude Makelele as a commanding midfield general and enforcer.
As the entire continent's clubs circle around the young French midfielder, United must act now to avoid missing out on a potential superstar if they wish to see M'Vila at Old Trafford wearing red in the near future. With United's midfield appearing lack bite, drive and power, could Yann M'Vila be the player Darren Fletcher and co need to see off the challenge of Yaya Toure, Nigel De Jong and David Silva at Manchester City?
Midfield: Jack Rodwell
A player who has long been linked with a move to Old Trafford, Jack Rodwell is yet to match the hype that surrounds him with consistent quality.
As things stand, Rodwell can be something of a highlights player pulling out eye-catching, box-to-box drives through midfield and down field surges to save the day with a last chance tackle. He has also been unlucky with injuries, an off putting blot on his record for Manchester United whose physio room has become busy of late.
Rodwell is still very young though, and has shown glimpses of quality at the heart of Everton's midfield against even the biggest teams. The young Englishman needs to link up his undoubted talent with consistent application to become the player he has often threatened to become.
If the potential signing of Leighton Baines would be akin to Ashley Young's Old Trafford switch then the transfer of Rodwell into the United ranks would hopefully see Everton's midfield dynamo blossom in a similar manner to Phil Jones' reaction to a red shirt.
Midfield: Marouane Fellaini
Seeing a third Everton player on this list should be taken as a compliment by fans of the Toffees. David Moyes' team, although thin on the ground in terms of numbers, currently boasts an excellent roster that is, pound for pound, as good as almost any in the Premier League.
Fellaini is another versatile and well rounded player capable of contributing at both ends of the field. He's even been deployed up front for Everton during some particularly sticky moments. The Belgian international is an awkward opponent who packs a surprising amount of power within his willowy frame. His aggressive determination and underrated skills make him a formidable midfielder able to enforce the wills of his team whilst also hurting defences going forward.
A proven performer in the Premiership, Fellaini would be ready to go, slotting straight into United's squad, but after the recent departure of Arteta to Arsenal, its doubtful David Moyes would let his star midfielder go without a fight.
Midfield: João Moutinho
Under Andre Villas-Boas at Porto, João Moutinho began to deliver on the promise he showed during his time at Sporting Lisbon.
Seeing how quickly Raul Meireles has taken to life in the Premier League with Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, Moutinho could be an option for Sir Alex, capable of adding some much needed energy and ideas to Manchester United's under strength midfield.
If a move where to be made for the Portugal international however, you can be sure AVB and Chelsea would mount a challenge for his signature. Whilst City are now undoubtedly the big money fat cats of world football, Abromovich's chequebook still looms ominously over any transfer window price bid wars meaning Moutinho may come at a cost.
Coach: Carlos Queiroz
Currently managing the Iranian national team, Carlo Queiroz could be the January signing Sir Alex Ferguson needs, returning to Old Trafford for a third time as a potential head coach or second assistant.
Queiroz revolutionised many of United's training programs and tactical systems during his time under Sir Alex, bringing in his own ideas and inspirations to complement the tendencies and desires of the Great Scot.
At the start of the season, Sir Alex seemed determined to force through a more free-wheeling, anarchic United set to outscore opponents rather than shut out their attacks. Whilst Mike Phelan is clearly a valuable asset to the United bench, maybe Fergie needs a counterpoint mind to bounce his ideas off?
Could it be third time lucky for United and Carlos Queiroz?