The beginning of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Manchester United got off to a shaky start, with an equally shaky backline. Three at the back was scrapped for a more orthodox four-man defensive unit. Despite the tinkering, Van Gaal was plagued by injuries and did not have the ball playing centre-backs he so dearly desired. As the season progressed a defensive trio emerged as the United boss’s go to pairings – Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones provided some central consistency, with Antonio Valencia locking down the right-back position. Smalling stands out like a shining light, having navigated some turbulent waters. Two yellow cards in eight minutes saw the 25-year-old dismissed against Manchester City and questions were raised about his ability. Come the end of the season and Smalling had captained United against Arsenal and earned himself a new three-year contract. Still, questions remain about the strength in depth of this United defence and whether the quality is there to challenge for a title. United still require a ball playing centre back or two, and a player of world class ability to offset the imminent departure of David De Gea.
United fans must be sick of hearing about De Gea’s expected move to Real Madrid, a team who already captured one of their greatest players, Cristiano Ronaldo. With their No1 shot stopper’s future up in the air, United need to look for a replacement or promote Victor Valdes to the first team and look for another back-up keeper. When De Gea was injured for United’s final game, Valdes deputised and put in a fine performance, showing that he had recovered from his anterior cruciate ligament injury and subsequent surgery. Trying to fill the void left by a top quality goalkeeper can be a tricky task, just look back to the years after 1999 at United and the time it took to replace Peter Schmeichel. Players such as Petr Cech and Hugo Lloris have been touted as possible replacements and could be options as a stopgap as United once again go on the hunt for another up-and-coming goalkeeper.
In seasons gone by the central striking position for United has not been a cause for concern. But now with the departure of Falcao and an ageing Robin van Persie’s future at the club uncertain, Van Gaal has to give serious consideration to bringing in a star striker to the team. Javier Hernandez returns from his season-long loan at Real Madrid but it seems unlikely that the United boss will retain the services of the Mexican forward. With one striker gone, another unlikely to stay and one possibly moving on, that just leaves two genuine No9’s. Wayne Rooney and James Wilson may very well be the only strikers at Van Gaal’s disposal, unless the United manager looks to the transfer market but is there genuine talent out there? Harry Kane has reportedly piqued the interest of the Manchester club, but after just one good season, is he really an option? Christian Benteke is looking for a new suitor, but once again is he of a United standard? In order to relieve their attacking conundrum United may have to look further afield to Europe and to the likes of Edison Cavani and Thomas Muller as real contenders for what is an important role in any team.
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