A disastrous couple of weeks for Manchester United has left boss Louis van Gaal seemingly edging towards an Old Trafford exit, whether now or at the end of the season.
United were knocked out of the Champions League last week, their misery compounded by an embarrassing defeat to Bournemouth on Saturday. If Van Gaal is to hang on to his job, there is no question he needs to invest (again) in January.
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The Dutchman recently addressed the possibility of bringing in players to bolster his attacking options, and strengthen his defence, for a Premier League title charge.
“It is also dependent on what I can buy,” he said. “I want to buy a lot of players but not all the players I want are for sale.”
Here are six players who Van Gaal should think about targeting in January if United are to improve.
JAMIE VARDY (Leicester City)
Vardy’s rise to fame has been a real rags to riches story. From earning £30 per-week with Stocksbridge Park Steels in the Premier Divison of the Northern Premier League, to earning several tens of thousands per-week with Premier League side Leicester , Vardy has captured the hearts of football fans the world over.
At 28-years-old, the Leicester striker is now in his prime. His short bursts of speed to get in behind the last man and ice-cool finishing ability have been his major assets and though he may not be in the same calibre as Thomas Muller, Neymar or Gareth Bale, for a short to medium-term option, he could bring a different dimension to United.
Leicester are not looking to sell their in-form striker, which means that Vardy will come at a price.
A figure of 25 million could be enough to tempt the Foxes – a proven Premier League striker is what United are in need of and the Englishman certainly ticks that box.
SADIO MANE (Southampton)
Van Gaal recently stated that he’s after more “speed and creativity on the wings” and Southampton star Mane is a perfect example of a free-roaming attacking player who can offer his team plenty of goals and assists. So far this season, Mané has scored seven in all competitions and provided four assists.
Mane offers something different to Juan Mata, a dynamism that United desperately long for. With Wayne Rooney and Mata occupying two out of the four attacking options, there is a distinct lack of pace – Mane would solve that problem. His price tag would be somewhere in the region of £20-25m considering Southampton have no reason to sell.
RIYAD MAHREZ (LEICESTER CITY)
The Algeria playmaker has taken the Premier League by storm so far this season, scoring eight goals in 13 appearances for Leicester and proving to be an imaginative addition to the top-flight’s high flyers, who have gone from relegation fodder last season to shock title contenders since his move in the summer.
The addition of Mahrez could see an exciting United front-line of Jesse Lingard/Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera/Juan Mata and Mahrez, all behind Anthony Martial. That’s a potent attack possessing intuition and speed in abundance. With Mahrez not cup-tied for the Champions League, his presence would be a major boon should United continue fighting at home and abroad until the end of the season.
FELIPE ANDERSON (Lazio)
Attacking midfielder Anderson enjoyed a stellar 2014-15 campaign for Lazio and has taken that form into the new season, averaging a goal every three games so far. Still only 22, he is one of the brightest young players in Europe right now, boasting a combination of technical skill and composure, as well as an admirable ability to score from long range.
When comparing Felipe Anderson and Rooney, the stats are telling. Rooney may have the experience and leadership qualities that Anderson doesn’t possess but the Brazilian is completing, on average, 18 forward passes per-game, three more than his English counterpart. Anderson will come at a hefty price, Lazio’s President, Claudio Lolito recently claiming that he is “not worth less than 100 million euros.” In reality, Lazio could be tempted by an offer of €40m.
AYMERIC LAPORTE (Athletic Bilbao)
The Athletic Bilbao’s centre-back plays with a maturity and confidence that belies his 21 years.
His stats compare favourably to the likes of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones; Laporte has completed 330 successful passes this season – 130 more than nearest competitor Blind, double the amount of forward passes when in defence, and has made twice as many interceptions than those other United defenders.
Van Gaal prefers ball-playing centre-backs and Laporte certainly has the technical ability to slot into the United back line. Laporte’s buy-out clause is €50m, plus tax, a figure that many would baulk at for a centre-back.
Given injuries elsewhere in defence to Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia, he may not be a No. 1 priority but Laporte should be on United’s radar.
RICARDO RODRIGUEZ (Wolfsburg)
With the devastating season-long injury to Luke Shaw, United are a bit short of options when it comes to full-backs. Marcos Rojo is an adequate-enough replacement but Ricardo Rodríguez would be a more complete option.
The Switzerland defender has played against United in this season’s Champions League group stage and enjoys propelling forward, taking players on and whipping the ball into the box for his strikers to attack. He showed at last year’s World Cup that he can handle the big stage and is currently regarded as one of the best defenders in European football.
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