Whatever the result on Sunday 11 defeats in all competitions this season – seven in the Premier League – dictates that United needs strengthening during the summer. Sir Alex Ferguson, mindful that his squad is an ever evolving beast, has said that he will bring in a further two players in addition to those already signed.
The Scot has signed the golden oldies – Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Sar – for another year in addition to the acquisitions of Chris Smalling and Javier Hernandéz.
Several areas of the team still need addressing but in doing so Ferguson faces some serious limitations on his activity:
- United’s financial situation means that the club will not spend large sums this summer unless it comes from the £75 million bank overdraft the Glazers arranged as part of the bond issue;
- Around £20 million of that fund has already been spent this calendar year on Hernandéz, Smalling and Mame Biram Diouf;
- United’s squad must now comply with the 25 man squad system, which must include at least eight domestically trained players, designated as home-grown.
In goal, van der Sar’s return to the side coincided with a tightening of a defence, beaten all too often pre-Christmas. The Dutchman will complete a final season with the club and Ferguson may decide not to spend unless his favoured option – Hugo Lloris of Olympique Lyonnais – is available at a reasonable price. Lyon’s notoriously hard-nosed chairman Jean-Michel Aulas is unlikely to let one of his prized assets leave on the cheap.
Ben Foster will almost certainly depart, with Birmingham City rumoured keen on the former Stoke City ‘keeper. Meanwhile Tomasz Kuszczak will provide competition for van der Sar, unless Lloris arrives. Ferguson may decide that priorities lie elsewhere on a limited budget and seek to add only a younger ‘keeper to the squad.
United will complete the season with the Premier League’s best defensive record, which reflects the side’s tactical make-up this season. However, four goals conceded against Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals points to some of the disorganisation that multiple injuries has brought a times this season.
Rio Ferdinand’s injury problems are chronic and long-term, while Nemanja Vidic’s future is as yet undecided. However, Jonny Evans’ new contract in addition to Chris Smalling’s capture means that Ferguson will bring in another defender only if the Serbian decides to leave. Even then it’s highly unlikely that an established name will join.
Ferguson’s more pressing problems lie in midfield, with a desperate lack of creativity coming from central midfield when Paul Scholes is not afforded time and space; essentially whenever United faces a leading opponent.
Ferguson, a known admirer of both Luka Modric and David Silva, will surely look to recruit one of the creative pair. Each will cost in excess of £25 million and neither will be easy to bring to Old Trafford.
Modric’s position is potentially dependent on Tottenham Hotspur’s qualification into the Champions League, while Silva’s is contingent on Real Madrid’s ongoing relationship with the disappointing Káka. The Spaniard is available from cash-strapped Valenicia and willing to move to England.
Modric and Silva are not identikit players, with the Croatian having proven he can play in the Premier League in three or four-man midfields. Meanwhile, Silva has largely played as a ‘number 10’ in Valencia’s outstanding fluid attacking unit this season.
Should Ferguson miss out on either of his first two options – as is likely – he may turn to CSKA’s Serbian Miloš Krasić or as a desperate last resort out-of-contract Joe Cole.
Michael Carrick’s chronic lack of form has now extended to almost a full season and, at 28, the former Tottenham Hotspur man looks the most obvious senior candidate for departure, with Owen Hargreaves now fit and Darren Fletcher established in the first team.
In forward areas seven into one does not go but Ferguson seems reluctant to release many of his forwards, bar Danny Welbeck who is likely to rejoin Preston North End on loan. One of United’s younger players – probably Mame Biram Diouf – is also likely to leave on loan or face a season on the sidelines.
Javier Hernandéz and Federico Macheda will provide back-up to Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.
What then of Dimitar Berbatov, whose 12 goals this season and sometimes antipathetic performances have split opinion on the Bulgarian’s value? Perhaps more pertinently, Berbatov seems anathema to Ferguson’s preferred 4-3-3 system.
Yet the Scot, never afraid to show star names the door, is persistent in his support of the Bulgarian forward so expect Berbatov to leave only if a decent fee is forthcoming.
In all it points to a quiet summer, despite the endless media speculation!
Rant’s guestimated first team squad 2010/2011
Edwin van der Sar
* new signing *
Gary Neville (HG)
Rio Ferdinand (HG)
Jonny Evans (HG)
Rafael da Silva (UR)
Chris Smalling (UR)
John O’Shea (HG)
Wes Brown (HG)
Paul Scholes (HG)
Ryan Giggs (HG)
Darren Fletcher (HG)
Darron Gibson (HG)
Gabriel Obertan (UR)
* new signing *
Wayne Rooney (HG)
Michael Owen (HG)
Federico Macheda (UR)
Matt James (UR)
Danny Welbeck (UR)
Mame Biram Diouf
Ben Amos (UR)
Tom Cleverley (UR)
Fabio da Silva (UR)
Ritchie de Laet (UR)
Michael Carrick (HG)
Ben Foster (HG)
(UR) – unregistered (not included in the official 25-man squad)
(HG) – home grown (over 21 but has spent at least 3 years trained at a domestic club)