It’s fair to say that Manchester United hasn’t had the greatest start to the new season. One point from two fixtures with Swansea and Sunderland respectively probably wasn’t what the Old Trafford faithful had in mind when Louis van Gaal was appointed as David Moyes’ successor. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what they’ve got.
Some may dismiss United’s early season form as temporary and nothing to get concerned about, and that’s a fair assumption. But if I was a United fan, I’ve got to be honest and say that I’d be concerned.
Because the thing is, United just don’t look very good.
Fergie’s United team is now well and truly dead, and with Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra moving onto pastures new this summer – as well as Ryan Giggs’ retirement – the Red Devils now look woefully short of quality.
This lack of quality has been compounded by the fact that van Gaal has made the frankly inexplicable decision to implement a 3-5-2 formation despite having hardly any centre backs (or defenders, come to think of it). Of the defenders the Dutchman does have at his disposal, none of them are proven and none of them are used to playing in this system.
Van Gaal’s curious system notwithstanding, to me, it seems obvious what United need. Some more players. But not just some more players; the right players.
And yet, it seems that they’ve spent a long time pursuing players who, in reality, probably shouldn’t be priorities right now.
Which brings me onto Angel di Maria.
Now don’t get me wrong, the Argentine is a wonderful talent. He was outstanding for Real Madrid last season and he fully deserved all the plaudits that came his way. But is it only me who is slightly confused by the fact that United are desperately in need of defenders and yet they’re spending £60 million-ish on another midfielder?
It seems completely bonkers to me. Okay, so di Maria might make United more impressive in attack; but will this make up for the woeful United defence? It seems unlikely.
Surely these gargantuan efforts to get di Maria to sign on the dotted line would be better used to sign Mats Hummels? Or Dante? Surely it would be more sensible to break the bank for a defender who’s going to keep your team stable at the back?
Not only is this move curious from a time perspective – given that there’s now less than a week until the transfer window closes and United still don’t have any good defenders – but it’s also just plain weird from a team perspective. Let’s consider the United team further up the pitch:
As we know, van Gaal wants to play 3-5-2 with this United team. The two strikers are going to be Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. That’s pretty clear. Behind them is likely to be Juan Mata. The wingbacks will be two of Rafael, Valencia, Young and Shaw. That leaves just two vacant midfield positions, one of which is presumable already going to be filled by Ander Herrera. Where will di Maria play?
The most logical position appears to be in midfield, but playing Herrera and di Maria together in midfield would mean not playing a defensively-minded player in the middle; leaving the team open to attacks through the centre of the pitch. If a more defensively-minded player – like Darren Fletcher – is deployed, it would mean leaving out Herrera or di Maria; and given that the two of them have cost around £90 million, it seems like a no-brainer to get them on the field.
To me it seems like United has gone for a status buy. Ed Woodward is desperate to show United are still relevant, and is splashing the cash to prove it. But ultimately, relevance isn’t defined by money, it’s defined by what you do on the pitch; and the frankly bizarre transfer policy United have operated under this summer doesn’t seem to have helped matters on that front.
Time will tell, but at the moment, the move for di Maria appears to be a distraction at a time when United need to be most focused.
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