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Arsenal vs. Utd: Mutual hatred

50-50 Challenge 5 days ago
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 By Musa Okwonga
Sep 3, 2014

How did Man Utd do in the window?

The ESPN FC crew review how Manchester United's spending stacks up against other European clubs.

Ins and Outs

Players in: Luke Shaw (Southampton, £30m), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £28.8m), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, undisclosed), Angel di Maria (Real Madrid, £59.7m), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon, £16m), Daley Blind (Ajax, £14m), Radamel Falcao (Monaco, loan).

Players out: Rio Ferdinand (QPR, free), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan, free), Ryan Giggs (retired), Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow, £4.4m), Federico Macheda (Cardiff, free), Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, loan), Patrice Evra (Juventus, initial £1.2m), Bebe (Benfica, £2.4million), Nani (Sporting Lisbon, loan), Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, loan), Jack Barmby (Leicester, free), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund, undisclosed), Javier Hernandez (Real Madrid, loan), Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, undisclosed), Tom Lawrence (Leicester, undisclosed), Nick Powell (Leicester, loan), Michael Keane (Burnley, loan)

Summing up the window

Manchester United have bought seven players this summer, six of whom are of UEFA Champions League quality and two of whom, Di Maria and Falcao, are indisputably world-class. (The teenage Serbian goalkeeper, Vanja Milinkovic, has been bought and loaned back to his club, and so remains untested.) There is almost something surreal about the arrival of those last two names, given that the club's lack of European football was supposed to keep such big names away; and, even though the wages offered them may have a great deal to do with Old Trafford's attraction, the chance to work with Louis van Gaal must also have been a significant factor. In an era of false nines, Falcao is the truest: an exceptional finisher and leader of the line. The hope must only be that he has recovered his fitness, and will not toil like Fernando Torres or Andriy Shevchenko did once they had lost their pace. In an era where elite wingers are thin on the ground, Di Maria is a talent who would grace any squad in any generation, and probably most starting lineups.

Yes, this squad remains a work in progress, and Manchester United still lack a dynamic midfield presence in the mould of Juventus' Arturo Vidal or Roma's Kevin Strootman, for whom the club are rumoured to be preparing a bid in January; but the additions made this summer -- eventually, it must be said -- have been at worst very, very good, and at best excellent. In midfield, where Manchester United have had the bulk of their problems for the past few years, the club now have Blind, who represents an immediate upgrade on Darren Fletcher; alongside Di Maria and Herrera, that is a midfield three to hold its own against any team in the Premier League. In defence, once their paperwork (Rojo) and fitness (Shaw) are satisfactory, the new arrivals will bring welcome strength to a troubled back line. Van Gaal has said openly that he does not believe this team or squad is good enough to win the league, and the sense is that if he had thought differently in private he would have done more to pursue Vidal; or, perhaps, he is just not willing to buy a player in that position who is any worse than the absolute best, which is the only real way to explain the club's apparent caution in this area. The only other thing to be said is that, until two weeks ago -- and the sudden arrivals of Di Maria, Blind and Falcao -- this looked like being a poor transfer window given Manchester United's extensive needs, and the delay in signing players has been damaging to the development of the team. For that reason, given the months of the season that it will take these signings to jell, it is not possible to give this transfer window the very highest mark: but it is close. Rating: 9/10

Angel Di Maria could help Man United back to the top.

Best piece of business?

The acquisition of Di Maria. The Argentine playmaker, who can operate in a midfield three or as a winger, has been one of Real Madrid's outstanding performers in recent years, and emerges from a season where he was the man-of-the-match in the UEFA Champions League final. He will bring great pace and invention to the team, combining both of those with the work rate of Antonio Valencia and a defensive ethic that would put most modern full-backs to shame. Once Herrera returns to fitness, and Blind is brought in alongside them both, the passing combinations have the potential to be sublime, and the supply to the team's attackers promises to be very exciting indeed.

Worst piece of business?

Perhaps the sale of Shinji Kagawa for only 6.3 million pounds, only because it reflects just how disappointing his two seasons were at Old Trafford. He was originally acquired for 17 million pounds, to much excitement; here was a player who had the vision and the goal-scoring touch, it seemed, to be the creative touchstone of a new era for the club. How forlorn those hopes -- and, in some cases, expectations -- now seem. Other contenders for worst piece of business might, in some eyes, be the sale of Danny Welbeck to Arsenal for 16 million pounds, but in truth that is a very good piece of business for both parties. Had Welbeck waited another season in the shadows at Old Trafford, his career might have gone into irreversible decline. Now, though, he will be playing UEFA Champions League football as part of the fastest forward line in the Premier League (and anyone disputing that should challenge Welbeck, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott to a 4x100 meter relay race). It is a decent price for a forward who, though gifted, never quite showed the scoring touch that should have made him a regular at Old Trafford; at Arsenal, with his excellent movement, he should fit immediately into that system, with a regular starting spot. Those sad to see him leave will be happy that he has landed on his feet. (The same is true for Javier Hernandez, whose loan move to Real Madrid will revitalise a predator who had long since lost his touch.)

What remaining issues are there?

Central midfield and defence. As mentioned earlier, Manchester United still need a combative midfielder with distribution skills. The alarming and unexpected factor, though, has been the unimpressive start to the season by the defence. Jonny Evans, in particular, has lacked the command of previous seasons, whilst Phil Jones may never be able to pass the ball out from the back as crisply as Van Gaal would like. There is also a question mark over the returning Rafael, for whom Antonio Valencia was given a three-year contract as cover but whose play under Van Gaal is still to be tested. But the signs of progress, given these new signings, are there.

Who can help in January?

Roma's Kevin Strootman is the obvious choice now; though recovering from injury himself, he is still only 24, three years younger than the apparently ailing Vidal, and would play alongside Herrera in a midfield axis and allow Blind to drop to centre-back. There remains an anxious wait to see if he will come back to full fitness, but if he can be bought in January then Manchester United can talk for the first time of having a cohesive team unit to challenge the league's leaders on a consistent basis.

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