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Are new recruits required at Old Trafford?
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Manchester United look the best bet to take the Premier League title from Chelsea of all the challenging teams.
They seem to have coasted to the top of the table without really noticing – remaining unbeaten while only occasionally playing at their best.
The Wayne Rooney saga has only drawn attention to his dreadful form this season, but fortunately the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez have stepped up in his stead.
According to the Times, Sir Alex Ferguson is planning a mass clear out of up to ten players between now and next August.
Edwin Van Der Sar is believed to plan to retire at the end of the season, as will Gary Neville.
Youth graduates Richie De Laet and Darren Gibson have failed to take their chances and will be allowed to move on, while Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen will not be offered new contracts and can leave on free transfers at the end of the season.
Tomasz Kuszczak will be allowed to leave, while stories have emerged that Patrice Evra has declared his interest in finishing his career at Real Madrid and will ask to leave in the summer.
In addition, question marks have been raised in the press over the futures of Michael Carrick and Wes Brown.
Recent Manchester United signings have signalled that the club is looking towards promising young talent, while the club’s academy is still producing decent prospects.
Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes will also both be offered further one year deals to stay at Old Trafford, with possibilities of coaching duties included.
Even so, there are a lot of players to be replaced in the Manchester United ranks, and the Glazers have reportedly promised heavy investment in the summer.
Here are ten potential transfer targets for January and beyond.
1. Yann M’Vila
Manchester United need to replace Owen Hargreaves in the summer – or more accurately with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, they needed to replace him over two years ago when his tendinitis problem first flared up.
Many have speculated that the 2009 Champions League final loss to Barcelona wouldn’t have been quite so convincing had either Owen Hargreaves or Darren Fletcher been on the pitch, but the match is confined to the archives of history now, and Sir Alex Ferguson only worries about the present and future.
Yann M’Vila is a bright young talent indeed.
The Rennes midfielder is a regular in the full France team at the age of just 20, and looks set to anchor their midfield for years to come.
Could he to the same for Manchester United?
They will have to fight off interest from Liverpool if so.
2. Lassana Diarra
Lassana Diarra is surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, and his transfer fee would be substantially less than that of his compatriot M’Vila.
Diarra was not part of the shambolic French World Cup squad due to a stomach injury, but is an outspoken character with a high opinion of his own ability who would have to be carefully managed at Old Trafford.
His versatility is a selling point though, and as well as playing as a holding midfielder he would be able to cover for Rafael at right back in the event of injury or suspension.
Still just 25, Lassana has already played for Arsenal and Chelsea, and could yet move to Manchester United. Could a player ever be bought by all ‘Big Four’ clubs in his career?
3. Sergio Busquets
Barcelona star Sergio Busquets’ agent has recently been in the press claiming clubs are interested in his client. Naturally one of those included Manchester United, and they would be foolish not to consider such a fine player.
However, Busquets is chasing a new contract at Camp Nou, and all the signs are that he will soon sign.
It is unfortunate for Manchester United, for Busquets’ passing ability and clever positioning would make him an immensely valuable asset at Old Trafford.
The Spain international employs Barcelona’s possession game to wonderful effect, and the reason Dani Alves is such a constant outlet on the right for the club is because Busquets drops back into a back three to cover when the Brazilian gets forward.
If he could do something similar for Manchester United’s Brazilian twins Rafael and Fabio – or Evra if he stays – at Old Trafford, he would give them an extra facet to their play.
It all just depends how long those contract talks drag on for…
4. Jack Rodwell
Though not a fan of a Premier League club (Hereford United forever), the plethora of interesting young English talents make the future of the national team an fascinating exercise in self-torture.
The likes of Kieran Gibbs, Martin Kelly, Jack Wilshere, Josh McEachran, and Andy Carroll all fantastic prospects that will most probably appear outstanding before inexplicably falling apart in a major tournament just as we begin to believe.
Still, I am as invested in England as I could be in a club, and even if I am a tad partisan, 19 year-old Jack Rodwell looks set to be a very fine player indeed.
The Everton academy has been immensely successful in recent years, and Tony Hibbert, Dan Gosling, Leon Osman, James Vaughan – and of course Wayne Rooney – are just a few of those to have graduated from its ranks.
Rodwell has great potential, and the 6’2″ teenager is more than just a defensive midfielder – he can play too.
A wonderful athlete, Rodwell’s driving runs from deep in midfield have resulted in goals for him and his team-mates, and he is a fine passer of the ball.
He is also capable of covering in central defence thanks to his height and strength in the tackle, but if Manchester United want to sign him, they may have to break the bank to do so.
5. Jordan Henderson
The Telegraph wrote earlier this month that Rodwell and Jordan Henderson of Sunderland were Manchester United’s primary transfer targets for the summer, and it is easy to see why.
With five midfielders likely to be selected in Europe and in tough domestic games, those players able to keep possession, find space and exploit it will be key.
Jordan Henderson tends to play on the right of a central midfield three, and with Lee Cattermole behind him mopping up he is able to play his own game.
His underwhelming England debut can be forgotten – a host of injuries meant he was played out of position as the anchor midfielder himself, and he certainly deserves another chance.
Last week FIFA listed him as one of thirteen young players to watch in 2011, and Manchester United are certainly keeping an eye on him.
6. Miralem Pjanic
Most Manchester United fans I speak to believe that their biggest weakness is their lack of creativity from central midfield.
There is not the goal threat there that Arsenal boast from Cesc Fabregas or Samir Nasri, Chelsea have with Frank Lampard, or Tottenham have with Rafael Van Der Vaart, with the threat instead coming from the flanks.
Ji Sung Park and Nani particularly have chipped in with their fair share of goals, but Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Anderson rarely find the net.
With the signing of Yoann Gourcuff in the summer, Miralem Pjanic has received less playing time at Olympique Lyonnais, and could be open to a move elsewhere.
The exciting 20 year-old Bosnian possesses marvellous technical quality and creativity, and is regarded as one of the best young talents in Europe.
7. Marek Hamsik
Marek Hamsik is the star midfielder of Serie A side Napoli and the captain of Slovakia at the age of 23.
He averages a goal approximately every four appearances for his club – an impressive rate which is improving over time – and his ability to dictate games is another valuable asset.
Hamsik is capable of playing in the centre of midfield, or attacking diagonally from wide left, which would give Manchester United some interesting options.
8. Alexis Sanchez
Alexis Sanchez is similarly versatile, and though the Chilean international made his name as a winger he has since started to play in the traditional number 10 role of fantasista.
Sanchez offers more flair than either Pjanic or Hamsik, and though his tricks do not always come off, they are effective enough to make him dangerous.
He is also a strong goal threat, and in the last two years has scored more than a goal every two appearances for Chile.
With clubs such as Inter Milan and Chelsea also interested though, Manchester United certainly have competition for his signature though.
9. Fabio Coentrao
If the rumours of Patrice Evra’s departure prove true Coentrao would be an interesting replacement.
He is probably the most exciting left back in football at the moment – providing Gareth Bale is considered a winger – with his dribbling ability almost unmatched from that position.
If a prospective defensive midfielder signing could learn to drop back into defence to cover for Coentrao’s runs forward (as described for Busquets above), the Portugal international’s attacking bursts from deep could cause Manchester United’s opposition serious problems.
Of course, United already have Rafael’s twin Fabio in that position, but he seems to have progressed less than his brother and Sir Alex Ferguson may not believe he is ready yet.
10. David de Gea
If the rumours of Edwin Van Der Sar’s retirement in the summer are true, Manchester will have a hard task to replace him.
Should they sign David de Gea though, they could have the position wrapped up for the next 15 years – and that may make his signing worth the £16m fee mooted in the press.
De Gea is almost indisputably the best young goalkeeper in the game at present, and though £16m seems rather a lot of money for a player in a position that clubs traditionally tend to pay less for, as a long term signing he could be priceless.