In Part 1, we have considered transfer targets for the defence identifying the need for a right-back and a centre-back. Now we look at other areas of the side where a centre midfielder and an attacker are my preferred positions to be strengthened, and again I’ll present a few options for each position. As always, you’re welcome to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the commentary at the bottom of this page.
Last summer, United finally signed a central midfield player when Ander Herrera joined from Athletic Club. The Spaniard has shone brightly lately and looks certain to be an integral part of United’s future. However, in van Gaal’s three man midfield there is a need for three different players as it stands right now. Herrera is the energetic, creative player who contributes goals and assists from midfield, while Michael Carrick’s importance to the side as the ‘pivote’ or ‘regista’ can’t be understated. Without Carrick, United have never been able to get the game going and look slow and predictable, despite the presence of Herrera and Juan Mata. We know van Gaal places a lot of faith in simply recycling the ball in order to open up gaps in the opposition, but without Carrick’s ability to break opposition lines with his passing the side has struggled to impose themselves on matches. For example last wekend, United were beaten by a West Brom side who had one attack all game and then spent the rest of it defending low. United couldn’t find an answer. Therefore, there is a need to find a replacement for Carrick, as well as an upgrade on the physical presence of Marouane Fellaini’s role. Fellaini fills no function when playing against low defences, as his ability on the ball and in possession is laughable for a player at this level. So, I would want two midfielders to come in.
Schneiderlin has impressed for Southampton over the last few years and was close to a move last summer but remained at the club and has been brilliant all year. The Frenchman is one of the best defensive midfielders in Europe right now as a proficient ball-winner with excellent tackling and reading of the game. Defensively, he would be an upgrade on Carrick in the holding role. He outclasses Carrick in terms of interceptions, although Carrick wins more of his duels and makes more blocks.
But the question I have is whether he is good enough in possession to play that crucial role in the build-up. Schneiderlin is a very good passer who actually averages more passes per game than Carrick, at an excellent completion rate of 89%. Carrick, however, edges the Frenchman in terms of passes forward, which can be explained with Carrick playing further down the pitch than Schneiderlin with the Geordie even playing at centre-back at different times during the winter.
What’s impressive is Schneiderlin’s attacking stats. He creates almost a chance a game for the Saints, which can be compared with Carrick creating less than half-a-chance a game for United. Schneiderlin has also completed 72% of his take-ons, which highlights an ability to dribble his way through opposition lines.
So what the stats show is that Schneiderlin actually would be good enough to play Carrick’s role both attacking-wise and defensively. However, he might be better suited to the role Fellaini is playing? I think so, but who would be better in Carrick’s position?
The Germany international has been heavily linked to the club in recent weeks, and Borussia Dortmund has confirmed his reluctance to sign a new contract at the club. Gündogan was one of the best midfielders in Europe when Dortmund reached the 2013 Champions League final at Wembley, but the suffered a serious back-injury which at one point looked career-threatening. He’s back playing now though, but has been playing further down than before, perhaps making van Gaal take note and make him a top target to replace Carrick?
It’s an interesting one, with the German lacking the defensive skills of Carrick and Schneiderlin, however showing why he used to be a more attacking player prior to his injury. He plays more forward passes than the aforementioned pair, creates more chances and completes more passes per game than both of the others.
However, he comes up short in terms of pass completion and all the defensive aspects (except total duels where he edges Schneiderlin), which means he would probably still be better suited to a similar role to the one Herrera plays. Can van Gaal have both in the team? Of course, with Schneiderlin or Carrick holding and Herrera-Gündogan in front, United would have a brilliant midfield three.
Perhaps a long shot, as I really doubt PSG would ever entertain the idea of selling the Italian, but Verratti would tick all the boxes for this United side. Excellent in possession, he outclasses all the others with more forward passes per game, more completed passes per game (77), the best pass completion at 91% as well as creating most chances per game. While he previously was considered by some, myself included, as a little unreliable and prone to a mistake, Verratti now looks likely to be one of the dominating midfielders in the coming years. He shone brightly at Stamford Bridge as the 10-man PSG played Chelsea off the park. He’s got this brilliant ability to dribble his way past opponents, highlighted by his 72% successful take-ons rate.
Defensivley, he looks the part too. Carrick just edges the Italian in duels won and blocks, but Verratti beats both Gündogan and Schneiderlin. In Italy, Verratti is considered the heir to Andrea Pirlo’s regista role for Gli Azzurri, perhaps he should be made the heir to Carrick’s in Manchester too.
This one is interesting. United have got two very good dribbling players in their squad in Adnan Januzaj and Angel Di Maria. Neither is getting in to the team at the moment. The reason being, I think, is the fact they’re taking risks. During the season we’ve seen and heard how van Gaal has worked with Herrera for example to minimize his risk taking, as the Dutchman don’t want his team to ever cede possession easily to the opposition.
However, as games like the West Brom defeat highlight the need for creativity and, indeed, players taking risks to create an opening and a goal. With Di Maria seemingly transforming from a Ballon d’Or contender to Bébé’s poor cousin in the space of a few months and Januzaj likely to go on loan to get his confidence and form back, there is a growing need for reinforcements. Memphis Depay and Gareth Bale have been mentioned, but there is a third option as well.
The Dutchman has been in scintillating form for PSV and averages 0.75 goals a game this season for the Dutch champions. He already has a rock solid relationship with van Gaal and his undeniable talent makes the link inevitable, and at 21-years-old he would be an exciting option for United. He creates on average two chances every game, which is more than Gareth Bale for example. Depay is not a player who will get 15 assists in a season, but he scores goals and creates chances for his team. Something United surely could do with in their squad. His take-on success is similar with Bale’s and United fans across the world would surely be excited to see the youngster plying his trade at Old Trafford in a few months’ time.
Here we can talk about a world-class player being linked to the club. Gareth Bale scored in both the Copa del Rey and the Champions League finals of last year, but hasn’t managed to match his performances this season with the heights of last year. He has even been booed at times this term, with the Madrid faithful being unhappy with their record signings contribution. The talk from Real and Bale himself insists he will remain at the club, but United will surely make enquiries to investigate the possibility to get a new Welsh wizard on the wing.
There’s no need for me to go on about what Bale would bring, as you all know that already. His pace, dribbling and goal-scoring would lift this United from struggling to get Champions League football to surely challenge for the title next year. However, the money involved means a deal looks unlikely for Bale, but there it might just be a slim, slim chance.
The Brazilian has been brilliant for a Lazio side that looks certain to play Champions League football next season. He’s scored 10 goals in Serie A, and is the shining light of an excellent team. He doesn’t create as many chances as Depay and Bale, but gets more assists than the Dutchman. His shooting accuracy is at an excellent rate of 65%, almost 20% better than the other two.
Felipe is also a better dribbler than the other two, with the Brazilian completing 64% of his take-ons. He’s the type of player who would get United fans off their seats in excitement at watching him leave defenders for dead, and would insert an element of surprise into the United line-up. Available for a cheaper price than the other two as well means it might be time for a new Brazilian by the name of Anderson to be given the chance to light up Old Trafford.
Van Gaal needs to improve his midfield, and attack, and the way to do that would be by spending his money on the right players. For me, that should mean getting Schneiderlin from the South Coast all the way up to the North West, with Verratti getting on the plane from Paris and Depay joining his country-man at the Theatre of Dreams. A midfield of Verratti, Herrera and Schneiderlin with the backing from Carrick, Fellaini, Blind and Rooney would mean United’s midfield would definitely be up to scratch, and a front three of Mata, Rooney and Depay, with Di Maria available once his form can be resurrected would strike fear into most opponents. Go on Louis, make it happen!
This piece was written by David Selini. Follow him on twitter @DaveSelini