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3 key positions that Manchester United should look to reinforce in January

ANALYST
Feature 31 Dec 2012, 11:09 IST
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Seven points clear and top of the table at the end of Christmas, Sir Alex could not ask for more. But the run towards the top has not been a particularly smooth one for United. They have a leaky defense, their wingers are not firing and some of their key players are on the treatment table. Although almost all of their games have been thrillers and have managed to keep their supporters in the edge of their seats, it has been a regular sight to see them go down by a goal in the early parts of the game and finally end up winning in the final 10 – 15 minutes. Even the return of Big Serb Nemanja Vidic has not improved the situation at the back. As for the midfield, Rooney and Young have now joined Anderson in the injured list as Japanese attacker Kagawa is nearing full fitness. Winger Nani is still injured and is yet to sort out his contract issues which may see him leave in January while Antonio Valencia seems to have lost the skating shoes that made him one of the most feared wingers in the Premier League. If this continues, facing Real Madrid in the Champions League knockout stages will be a daunting task for Fergie’s men. Although many players are being linked with the club, here is the look at the positions and the players who will allow Red devils stay atop and may well take them all the way.

CENTRE BACK

United have conceded first in 17 games out of the 27 played in all competitions this season and have managed to keep a clean sheet in only 2 games out of the 19 played so far in the Premier League, the same as bottom side QPR , a statistic that  shows how jittery they have been at the back. Captain Vidic’s injury cannot be cited as an excuse here as they have conceded in 5 out of the 6 Premier League games that the Serb has featured in. They have been highly vulnerable to set pieces and caught out of position many a times which leaves David De Gea all alone to deal with the situation. The return of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling has reduced the burden of the center back but their rustiness is visible at times. Fans are calling for a young center back who can act as a stop gap and reduce the number of goals conceded. The players that Sir Alex can look for are Ryan Shawcross, Ezeiquel Garay and Angelo Ogbonna.

Ryan Shawcross (L), Angelo Ogbonna (C), Garay (R)

Ryan Shawcross (L), Angelo Ogbonna (C), Garay (R)

Shawcross is young and talented and been a part of the Stoke side who have conceded just 4 goals in their home games so far this season. The Manchester United academy reject has adapted well to the physical game that Stoke City prefer which has seen him become one of the best central defenders in the Premier League. Moreover, he is a comparatively affordable option for Sir Alex as compared to Mats Hummels who has been under his radar for quite sometime now. Garay, who currently plays for Benfica after three seasons with Real Madrid has been the mainstay of the Portuguese outfit’s defense. The 26 year old, who is valued to be around £15 million, has been a regular for the Argentine National Team as well. Ogbonna, 24, has shone over the past two seasons, helping his club Torino win promotion back to Serie A. The youngster can play as a make shift left back and was named in the Italian Squad for Euro 2012.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD

Ever since Roy Keane left the club, United have not been able to find a replacement for the Irishman who was feared by every opponent. They have lacked a person who does the engine work for the whole 90 minutes. Just when Anderson was putting in a string of impressive performances, a hamstring injury sidelined the young Brazilian till January. Micheal Carrick and Tom Cleverely have been brilliant when it comes to playing the role of a deep lying playmaker and exceptional as ever when it comes to slick passing but a little off the mark when it comes to physical presence and tough tackling. They need a person who can sit back and dictate the game from the middle of the field and at the same time show some physical presence when it comes to set pieces. With Paul Pogba leaving in the start of the season, they have lost out on a hugely talented youngster. But they do have the option of going for Victor Wanyama, Sandro or Kevin Strootman. 

Strootman (L), Sandro (C), Wanyama (R)

Strootman (L), Sandro (C), Wanyama (R)

Wanyama has been the mainstay of the Celtic’s midfield this season. He is strong and tough, can sit back, make good passing decisions and plays with lot of intensity. At just 21, he became the first ever Kenyan to score in the Champions League which resulted in a victory against the mighty Barcelona. Celtic boss Neil Lennon has already described Wanyama as “world class”, “He’s a player who has progressed in physical presence and his technical ability on the ball is excellent. I think he is a wonderful talent and he can only get better”says Lennon. At £12 million, he may be the man that could bring in much needed muscle to the Red Devils side.

Kevin Strootman is another option for United. The Dutchman has impressed at PSV and has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford. He is deployed a deep lying playmaker, similar to Carrick, but is flexible and tough enough to play as a box-to-box midfielder as well. Sandro, the Brazilian who plays for Tottenham Hotspur, is a player similar to Wanyama. He has put up some impressive performances for Spurs this season and has made the most tackles & interceptions combined in the Premier League this season (137). He may come under pressure if Villas Boas brings in Joao Moutinho from Porto.

Sandro stats 2012-13

Sandro stats 2012-13

FLANK

Manchester United wingers have been experiencing turbulence so far this season. Nani out with a hamstring injury and yet to sort out his contract issues with United, Ashley Young has been plagued by injuries and failing to put up consistent performances and Antonio Valencia looks completely out of sorts and low on confidence. All the three excelled towards the latter half of the season and came up with match winning performances. Valencia, who had made Ashley Cole run in circles during United’s game against Chelsea last season,  has found it difficult to cut across his man and deliver the crosses with the muzzle power that he had last season. The number of successful take ons stands at a dismal 36% for the Ecuadorian winger. With the danger of Nani leaving in January or during the start of next season, United should be ready with a back up plan to reinforce their wings. Theo Walcott, James Rodriguez and Wilfred Zaha have already been linked with a move to the club.

Walcott (L), James Rodriguez (C), Zaha (R)

Walcott (L), James Rodriguez (C), Zaha (R)

Walcott, whose future with the Gunners hangs in uncertainty would be ideal for the Red Devils. The winger who can play as a make shift striker had been a prime reason for Robin Van Persie‘s dominance in Arsenal last season with 8 assists to his name last season and has a chance to reunite with Van Persie at Old Trafford. Sir Alex can have him for free in the summer if the contract talks between Walcott and Arsenal collapse. James Rodriguez is wanted by most of the top clubs in Europe but Porto’s asking fee of 25 million plus may act as a stumbling block for the young Colombian’s transfer. Wilfred Zaha has caught attention of the top clubs with his phenomenal performances at Crystal Palace. The pacey winger has grabbed the headlines with his on field talent and off the field comments, comparing himself with Ronaldo and Messi.

It is clear that Sir Alex wants to build a squad for the future as the United boss looks to reinforce the squad of his beloved club as he gets ready to step down in a year or two. Don’t be surprised to see the Glazers splash the cash in the summer to bring in some of the raw talents to Old Trafford.

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