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Manchester United Still Need More to Challenge for the Title This Season

Sam Pilger@sampilgerContributing Football WriterAugust 24, 2015

Manchester United's Dutch manager Louis van Gaal arrives ahead of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 22, 2015. AFP PHOTO / OLI SCARFF

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During the 2013-14 season, the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers tartly declared that Tottenham having spent close to £100 million on new players, funded by the sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid, should be expected to challenge for the title.

Twelve months later, these words were to haunt him when, having spent a similar amount with the proceeds of the Luis Suarez sale, Rodgers came nowhere near to a title challenge and instead slumped to a sixth-placed finish. 

But Rodgers’ instincts were largely correct, if a team spends around £100 million, a large amount even in these inflated times, they should at the very least muster a title challenge. 

Last summer Louis van Gaal spent even more, a total of £150 million on six new players, but despite this unprecedented splurge was allowed a transitional season, and finished a distant fourth. 

This summer Van Gaal has made more purchases, bringing the overall total he has spent in the last 12 months to £220 million.

A whole new team has been assembled for nearly a quarter of a billion pounds, and yet no one expects United to seriously challenge for the title this season.

For that staggering outlay United should be demanding so much more.

In the first three games of the season, however, it has quickly become clear why United still do not boast a team to overtake Chelsea or Manchester City.

On the opening day of the Premier League season against Tottenham, United handed debuts to five brand new players, and yet their team remains riven with large holes.

The transfer window will close next week on September 1, and United need to decide whether they will accept a season of consolidation with the existing squad, or spend again to ensure a title challenge.

Stick or twist?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United applauds crowds after his team's 0-0 draw in the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (
Julian Finney/Getty Images

The frustration for United is that they have had a long time, more than half a year, to plan how they would address their obvious deficiencies.

By spring it would have been clear to Van Gaal that he needed to inject more vibrancy and pace into his forward line.

He had tired of the contributions of Radamel Falcao and Robin van Persie, and decided to sell them in the summer.

The pair have now both gone, and cleared an estimated £500,000 a week from the wage bill, and yet no one has arrived to take their place.

It means United have to rely on a fading Wayne Rooney, who turns 30 in October, to score 20 league goals this season, something he has only achieved twice in his 11 seasons at Old Trafford.

Beyond Rooney, United’s striking stable looks alarmingly barren, populated by the as-yet-unproven potential of James Wilson, and the unwanted figure of Javier Hernandez, who Van Gaal banished out on loan last season.

Van Gaal has championed the need for his side to play with “speed and creativity,” as reported by the Daily Mail, and yet, probably reluctantly, sold the one player who possessed both those qualities in Angel Di Maria, and has failed to replace him.

It appeared as though Pedro would arrive to fill that role, and yet United botched the move. As it stands, there remains a large Di Maria-sized hole in the squad. 

Van Gaal has produced a sturdier United, a side who are more difficult to beat. Since November last year no side has conceded fewer goals in the Premier League than United, and they have begun this season with three clean sheets.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 22: Memphis Depay of Manchester United gestures during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford on August 22, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty
Julian Finney/Getty Images

But even in defence, United’s pursuit of Sergio Ramos, per BBC Sport, highlights Van Gaal is not entirely convinced by his collection of central defenders.

Daley Blind and Chris Smalling have both started the season well, but Van Gaal will acknowledge that one of them needs to be playing alongside a more established and experienced partner. 

This United defence lacks a leader, and has come nowhere near to filling the vacancies left by Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic a year ago.

The David De Gea saga, with the player being linked to Real Madrid, per the Daily Mirror, will be resolved in the next eight days, and the sense is United could not possibly sell him now, for the lack of time they would then have to buy a world-class replacement.

Now a loveless marriage, they will have to endure each other for their own selfish benefits for the next nine months.

Manchester United's Spanish goalkeeper David de Gea (centre right) sits in the stands ahead of the English Premier League football match between Manchester United and Newcastle United at Old Trafford in Manchester, north west England, on August 22, 2015.
OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

A central defender, a striker, and a winger, all in the world-class bracket, seems a fanciful and frankly unrealistic shopping list of players in the final week of August, and yet this is still what United need to compete this season.

It is surprising they have allowed themselves to be put in this position, and need so much, so late in the window.

It is also an indisputable truth that United, after spending that £220 million in the last 12 months, should have a far more formidable side.

United have bought well this summer, a brilliant new right-back in Matteo Darmian, finally bolstered their midfield with Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, and already Memphis Depay appears a worthy owner of the fabled No. 7 shirt.

But these four purchases offer United the chance to only consolidate their place in the top four, and nothing more.

The next week will determine whether United can become title challengers for this season. 

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