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Manchester United

Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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 By Musa Okwonga

Transfer Talk: Manchester United's summer so far

The ESPN FC panel weighs in on the Premier League odds and debates which team will win the league.

With the transfer window in full swing, ESPN FC's Manchester United blogger Musa Okwonga discusses how Louis van Gaal's side is shaping up ahead of the new season.

IN -- Luke Shaw (Southampton, 27 million pounds), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, 28.4 million pounds)

OUT -- Alex Buttner (Dynamo Moscow, 4.4 million pounds); Patrice Evra (Juventus, 1.5 million pounds); Rio Ferdinand (released); Ryan Giggs (retired); Federico Macheda (Cardiff City) Free; Jack Barmby (Leicester City) Free; Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan) Free;

Expected budget

The budget, given the current expenditure and the fact that a few new players -- one or two central midfielders and a central defender -- are expected to arrive, will probably be somewhere in the region of 100 million to 120 million pounds. Shaw and Herrera did not leave much change from 60 million pounds, and the strong rumours are that Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen may arrive for a fee in the region of 10 million pounds.

The money, despite Manchester United's absence from the Champions League, is there. The club is profitable and has recently received confirmation of two sponsorship deals: from Chevrolet, for the club's shirt, and adidas, for provision of the club's kit. The Chevrolet deal is worth 53 million pounds and the adidas deal is worth 750 million pounds, sums that, when combined, are more than the loans taken out by the Glazers (some 790 million pounds) to acquire the club in 2005.

Rate your business so far

Nine out of 10. United have so far signed Shaw and Herrera -- the former with the potential to be one of the outstanding left-backs of his generation and the latter the orchestrator that the club's midfield has needed for years. These are both superb talents. Some may balk at the price, but two factors should be considered.

First, Shaw represents an investment similar to the Rio Ferdinand transfer, when the centre-back arrived from Leeds United in 2002 for 29.1 million pounds. Either Manchester United will have Shaw for several years or he will be young enough to have a substantial resale value within the next few seasons.

Second, Herrera's addition to the squad has echoes of Manchester City's acquisition of Fernandinho last summer, a player people thought far too expensive at just shy of 40 million pounds but who was vital to the team's improvement.

Both players are worth such an amount to their squad. The transfer business so far has been excellent, but more players are needed and soon. If the club continues in this vein, though, it is set for an exciting season.

Ander Herrera will add much-needed quality to the centre of Manchester United's midfield.

Who should be sold?

By the looks of things, Marouane Fellaini and Javier Hernandez should be on their way, given that they were left at home for the club's preseason tour of the U.S. with no indication that they were being rested after their World Cup exertions. Anderson looks to be on his way too, having averaged just over a dozen games in each of his seasons at the club. Unlike Fellaini or Hernandez, Anderson has the talent to be a regular starter under Van Gaal, but his application and fitness have always been separate matters entirely.

Another player who should probably depart is Ashley Young, who has been consistently disappointing since his encouraging debut season. In theory, Tom Cleverley should probably be sold, given his failure to develop over the past two seasons, but the reality is that Manchester United's shortage in central midfield may yet save him, leading Van Gaal to use him as an additional squad option. Of course, there is always the possibility that Van Gaal, like Roberto Martinez, will see him as one of the outstanding talents of his generation and turn him into a player that few supporters expected. If Van Gaal does that this season, then this achievement alone will justify the hype around his appointment.

Summer transfer window roundup

- Premier League: Team-by-team ins and outs
- Transfer Centre: All the done deals
- Marcotti: Mind-boggling transfers
- Delaney: What did we learn on deadline day?
- Horncastle: European transfer grades
- Smith: Transfers more important than the game?
- Macintosh: We worship goals, not balance sheets

Who should be signed?

Roma's Kevin Strootman -- though this may be complicated, as he has an injury that could sideline him for some time -- and Arsenal's Vermaelen, who Arsene Wenger hinted this week could be leaving the club. The most intriguing name, that of Juventus' Arturo Vidal, is apparently not in the ring; the club has made it known that it is not interested in pursuing the player and that no offer has been made. This is odd, because there were indications just a fortnight ago that Vidal was very much a player that the club was after. If Vidal is not in Manchester United's sights, then it might make sense to go after one of the Bender twins, Sven or Lars, from Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, respectively.

Problem solving: What do you need?

There are two answers to this. The first is central midfield; the problems there are so pronounced that not one but two elite performers, namely Strootman and Vidal, will be needed to address them. Whether either will arrive is anyone's guess, but these are players of the requisite calibre. To be linked with them is encouraging.

The second answer is that the main problem area is self-belief. Under David Moyes, Manchester United, and Old Trafford in particular, lost their aura. Teams were no longer perturbed about playing the champions, with the attendant effect of Moyes' often defeatist rhetoric that the players began to think that they were less good than they were. It is only the early days, but Van Gaal has seemingly done the most important thing, which is to return the spring to the club's step. It is this, above all, that has made him such a compelling acquisition.