Manchester United fans are used to transfer window sagas. This year's target appears to be Barcelona and Spanish U-21 midfielder Thiago Alcantara, an individual David Moyes tried to sign whilst manager of Everton (as reported by The Daily Mirror).
Despite The Daily Mail suggesting United have agreed to sign the highly-rated player in a deal worth up to £5.5 million per year, the Old Trafford faithful are still awaiting confirmation on what would be an excellent acquisition. Barcelona know they will be letting a future star leave for £17 million—a smidgen of the price he is worth—and will do everything they can to stop him leaving the Camp Nou.
While Thiago may be using Manchester United as leverage for a better deal in Catalonia, he is likely to quit La Liga if significant playing time isn't guaranteed in the run-up to next summer's World Cup. At 22 years old, Thiago needs to be regularly performing at the highest level if he has any chance of being included in the Spanish World Cup squad.
Although any potential deal is likely to roll on, it's time to consider how Thiago's arrival could affect Manchester United's starting lineup. He is a versatile player who can fulfill a number of midfield roles, but how would Moyes deploy him alongside those already at the Theatre of Dreams? Let's take a look.
Goalkeeper and defence—David De Gea; Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Rafael.
Thiago's arrival wouldn't change Manchester United's defence in the immediate future. Even though Phil Jones is likely to take over from either Nemanja Vidic or Rio Ferdinand in the next few years, and Patrice Evra could be exchanged for Leighton Baines (as reported by BBC Sport), United's back four will be mostly unchanged when the 2013/14 season begins.
David De Gea—who wrote "See you in Manchester" on Thiago's hat-trick ball from the European U-21 Championships final according to ESPN—has a major part to play in the Spaniard's transition. The Manchester United stopper can relay orders, inspire confidence and allow Thiago to settle with the help of a friend.
Midfield—Michael Carrick, Thiago Alcantara; Nani, Shinji Kagawa, Antonio Valencia.
Now for the interesting part. While Thiago's starting position would settle alongside Carrick on the halfway line, he should be given freedom to roam. He is a creative type who also possesses decent strength and willingness to follow his man, but United would want him to receive plenty of the ball.
I'm a firm believer that Shinji Kagawa must start the 2013/14 season in his favoured No. 10 role. The Japanese star excelled for Borussia Dortmund in this position and could form an effective partnership with Thiago behind him. At 24 and 22 years old respectively, Kagawa and Thiago could be given years to develop one of world football's most intricate passing relationships.
Of course, this means Wayne Rooney must be sacrificed. Although Moyes could opt for Rooney upfront alongside Robin van Persie, the incoming Scottish manager should take this opportunity to rid United of their troubled Englishman. According to The Daily Mirror, the 27-year-old is adamant he didn't put in a second transfer request before Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Either way, Rooney's exit could be the perfect opportunity for Moyes to stamp his authority into the club. The old Everton colleagues are likely to work things out, but Rooney's inconsistent form during the 2012/13 season suggests his stock will continue to wane (or should that be "Wayne"?).
Kagawa deserves a chance to express himself in the role that Manchester United originally bought him for, especially when Thiago's inclusion will allow the team to play a more free-flowing, technical style of football.
Rooney's admission also allows United to maintain the traditional use of wingers. Despite Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia all having poor 2012/13 campaigns, United always look more threatening with two speedsters on the flanks. If Rooney stays and Thiago arrives, Moyes certainly has a number of formations at his disposal.
Attack—Robin van Persie
Very little needs to be said about United's Dutch striker. Thiago's presence would allow Kagawa to push up the pitch and support van Persie in attack. The former Arsenal forward likes to drop and recycle the ball with his No. 10, so plenty of interlinking passes around the opposition's box would take place.
Nani and Valencia provide natural width and open up plenty of space for those in the middle. With Thiago advancing slightly, Kagawa would have the chance to become as integral to United as David Silva is to Manchester City or Juan Mata is to Chelsea. Continuous movement beyond the halfway line could also drag defenders away from van Persie and provide the left-footed wizard with a generous amount of goal-scoring opportunities.
Summary—The Full Team
There's little doubt Thiago's arrival would alter the way Manchester United play football. The Spaniard would naturally roam across the pitch, an occurrence that may help his teammates maintain possession and overcome a rigidity that is so often apparent in the English game. It seems letting Thiago off the hook in United's midfield could be a vital step in what David Moyes' Manchester United is to become.
Will United secure Thiago's signature from Barcelona? Is this saga going to end like the Lucas Moura, Eden Hazard and Wesley Sneijder affairs? Should Moyes sacrifice Rooney and allow Kagawa to play his favoured role?
So many questions. Be sure to discuss them with me in the comments section below and on Twitter: