After the disaster of last season, Manchester United can surely only move upwards next season in the Premier League. How far upwards, however, will depend on how quickly new manager Louis van Gaal settles into his new club, and which players United are able to bring into the club to aid the rebuilding of the fallen former champions.
So far in this transfer window, United have splashed around £60m on left-back Luke Shaw from Southampton and midfielder Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao, as they hope to return to the top four places next season, at the very least. Are Shaw and Herrera good signings for United? Do they help the cause right now or are they players for the future? They’re good right now, but they’ll be better in the future is the answer.
Shaw is an exciting talent who has risen to prominence in the last couple of seasons at Southampton. The £27m fee seems excessive, but with Patrice Evra coming towards the end of his United career, a new long-term left-back was needed, and regardless of the fee, United now have that. Shaw is nowhere near the finished article at this point, but at just 19 years of age, he has many years to reach his undoubtedly high potential. He will slot into Evra’s position in the team next season, but the expectations should not be overly high right now.
Shaw will catch the eye when he raids forward to help the offense, but defensively he still needs time to develop. He is a good defender in one-on-one situations, but can get caught out positionally off-the-ball and he lacks the necessary level of focus and concentration at times. Again, he’s young and will develop — potentially into the best left-back in the world — over the next few years and next season will only be the first step of that development at United.
Herrera will be the more intriguing of the two signings United have made so far. Where exactly will he play? It depends on which formation and system van Gaal chooses to implement, and that is obviously unknown at this point. Herrera can play either as a central midfielder, doing a bit of everything, or as a No. 10 behind a striker. Given the amount of No. 10’s united already have, however, with Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata, Shinji Kagawa and even Marouane Fellaini, it seems unlikely that Herrera will play in that role.
The Spaniard is a very clever player who has great awareness on the pitch; his passing and vision are strengths and he has a competitive streak in him too. He only has a slight frame, though, and he may initially struggle with the physicality of the Premier League, as many do, but over time he should develop into an excellent player for United. The key word again, with both players, is develop. But do United have time for these players to develop or do they need players ready to go right now?
To challenge for the championship, they need players who can make a difference right now, and that’s why the remainder of this window will be crucial for United and their ambitions this season. The Red Devils still need more central midfielders, a center-back and a proven quality winger, and Mats Hummels, Angel Di Maria and Arturo Vidal have all been linked for those positions.
United have done okay so far, but considering they have more work to do than most to catch up ahead of next season, it still leaves plenty of work still to be done. The players that United have been further linked with are certainly another step in the direction, but players of that ilk are an absolute necessity if United are to elevate themselves to be genuine challengers for the championship next season.