United set for over-Gaal

Louis van Gaal has always said that he would take his time to look at his Manchester United squad and assess their abilities.

He has looked. He has assessed. Now is the time for action.

In the next three days, Man United will get rid of those the Dutchman has deemed unworthy and will do their best to replace them with players who are more suited to the challenge.

The cull has begun.

Defeat by Swansea on the opening day of the season could have been put down to nerves or unfamiliarity with new tactics.

A miserable draw at Sunderland last Sunday was evidence that this is not going to be a passing problem.

The 4-0 massacre at MK Dons in the League Cup in midweek merely confirmed those suspicions, while making it clear that the answers did not lie in the fringe players and the development squad.

As United prepare to face Burnley, arguably the weakest team in the Premiership, van Gaal will know how much work needs to be done before the transfer window shuts on Monday.


Van Gaal wants his own players and he has told the squad as much. But the solution is not an easy one.

United should have been rebuilding back in May when David Moyes was sacked.

It was no secret that Nemanja Vidic was leaving for Inter Milan. It was no secret that Rio Ferdinand would be released. And yet somehow neither man has yet been replaced.

Now every club with a talented centre back will know that United are desperate.

Every agent will know that he can throw extra charges into the deal and United are in no position to walk away.

Vice-chairman Ed Woodward has to bring in players or face the reality of life outside the Champions League for another season.

Ideally, United will want two centre backs and a central midfielder. Two left backs Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo are in place, Rafael da Silva and a host of others can cover the right, but the middle is too weak.

Of the three senior defenders, Phil Jones has the best chance of survival. Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans must prove themselves but, because of the scarcity of their kind, will survive.

Tyler Blackett, blameless for this slump, is likely to be retained for now.

Daley Blind is the most heavily linked target, but that presents a number of issues.

Blind is an intelligent and versatile player. He isn't quick, but he's clever and professional.

But, if van Gaal really wanted him, why didn't he get him earlier? There's no question that Blind would welcome the move. And is a versatile utility man really the answer to United's issues?

Is Angel di Maria the answer? At £60 million ($124m), van Gaal must believe so. He is, quite obviously, a first-class footballer, but where will he play?


He is not a wingback and United have a surplus of No. 10-style players.

The only conceivable outcome is that van Gaal will dump his back three and play di Maria as a winger.

That, however, will reduce the need for Blind, who might not be the best choice as one half of a centre-back pairing and wouldn't be used ahead of Shaw and Rojo on the left.

There is a perplexing lack of thorough thinking to United's recruiting.

United will want to bring back as much money as they can for their unwanted players, but few will be prepared to pay well for the names on van Gaal's hitlist.

Anderson has been a complete flop, only very rarely showing his true potential. There is no chance that United will recoup the eye-watering £20m they paid for him in 2007.

Shinji Kagawa, darling of the hipsters, is also likely to leave, a cut-price return to Borussia Dortmund looks likely for him.

Tom Cleverley has been linked with an £8m move to Aston Villa.

Javier Hernandez will have few problems finding suitors willing to give him a chance to revive his career, but he is unlikely to fetch more than a quarter of what it cost to recruit di Maria.

This will be an expensive period for the club, a penance for their lack of planning.

Van Gaal is a proven manager and United fans still believe that he will turn this team around.

But, you look at Burnley and you look at United and you wonder, will this get worse before it gets better?

This article was first published on August 30, 2014.
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