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Sep 2, 2014

Focus on attack papers over Manchester Utd cracks

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol predicts what Manchester United's starting XI will look like following the end of the transfer window.

It's hard to believe that just a week ago Manchester United fans were furious with the club's business in the transfer window. Three Premier League games had gone by without a victory, intensifying the frustration. After years of under-investment, the club were paying the price on the pitch, leaving supporters questioning why Ed Woodward was so slow to sign anyone.

When Tottenham Hotspur sold Gareth Bale for 85 million pounds last summer, they went on to spend over 100 million pounds on transfers. When Liverpool sold Luis Suarez for 65 million pounds this summer, they brought in close to 120 million pounds worth of players.

When Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo, the best player in the world, for 80 million pounds, they brought in Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen for a total of 19 million pounds. Valencia is no Ronaldo and Owen was no Carlos Tevez, who left the club for City that summer too, but this pattern of failing to replace the players who have left with a similar standard has contributed to United's current situation.

When you consider that United are the most profitable club in the country, it beggars belief that the likes of Spurs, Chelsea, City, Liverpool and, more recently, even Arsenal, are prepared to be more ambitious than United in the transfer market.

Sir Alex Ferguson papered over the cracks with his ability to get the absolute best out of his squad while the Glazers got away with spending as little as possible. In their first six seasons they spent an average of 30 million pounds a season, with an average net spend of 2.4 million pounds a season.

Still, while the Glazers are culpable for the state of the current squad, that doesn't mean there haven't been mistakes and questionable decisions by others along the way, the cases of Nani and Shinji Kagawa in particular.

However, for all the errors United have made over the past few years, it's hard for the supporters to complain now, following all the signings this summer. Upon waking up this morning, fans will want to make sure the last week hasn't been a dream, considering the talent that has been brought in to the club.

"The best players want to play in the best competition," Brendan Rodgers said a few months ago. "Any club will suffer the same when they're not in there. It will hurt you, but they [United] will know that."

Against all odds, Woodward pulled it out of the bag and brought in some truly world-class players, which is a rare approach for United. A supposed lack of funds and no Champions League football was supposed to cripple United during this window, but the club seemingly paid no attention to that.

United broke the British transfer record to bring in Angel Di Maria for 59.7 million pounds, the player who has regularly been described as the most important player at Real Madrid following his influence last season. He's arguably the most high-profile player United have ever signed, possibly rivalled by his compatriot Juan Sebastian Veron, and there are huge expectations on his shoulders. But is he a player the club needed?

The same question can be asked of Radamel Falcao, whose transfer is the biggest surprise of the window, after he looked far more likely to sign for Real Madrid, Manchester City or Arsenal. Both Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez were only granted permission to leave the club thanks to the signing of the Colombian, but was this really an area that needed improving?

Still, while talking about these superstars, we should be mindful of the other players who arrived during this window. Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo were all bought for their potential, rather than for what they've already proved they can do at the top level, but add some balance to the squad. However, for all the money spent and the standard of players brought in, it is puzzling that the club chose not to address the issues in the squad. Four defenders left this summer, three of them the most experienced players at the club, and they were replaced with two young and unproven defenders.

Marcos Rojo needs to fill the gaps left by Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

The midfield problem has been going on for almost a decade now so why, in a summer when so much money has been spent, did the club not prioritise a strong player in this position? Arturo Vidal appeared to be the perfect fit, but the club left it too late to put in an appropriate bid, leaving Juventus with no choice but to reject it for fear of not bringing in a replacement in time.

While it would appear incredibly spoiled for any United fan to complain about Woodward's performance this summer, they are still entitled to be confused over the chosen strategy. However, how can you argue with an attacking line that contains Robin van Persie, Falcao, Wayne Rooney, Di Maria and Juan Mata? United may concede three goals every week, thanks to an inexperienced defence and unstable midfield, but presumably Louis van Gaal is relying on them scoring even more to compensate.

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