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Manchester United

Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Mark Payne Manchester Utd  By Mark Payne

United futures are on the line

ESPN FC's Gary Bailey gives his take on who should leave and who should come in for Manchester United in the transfer window.

In the wake of Manchester United's satisfying but ultimately meaningless 3-1 victory over Liverpool in Miami on Tuesday, several players can now start counting their days at the club. Louis van Gaal stated at the start of the week his intention to inform the players of who was in his plans following the tour. That time is nigh.

- LVG: Futures under threat
- Payne: Young and Fletcher impress

The process of squad renewal will already be in motion, and despite van Gaal's insistence that he will not disclose transfer news with the press, Manchester United are a leaky ship these days. Players on the way out will be linked with moves from now on, with Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez Balcazar reportedly on Atletico Madrid's wanted list.

Based on United's games in the States, there are some unlikely winners and losers. It was a particularly bad time for Ben Amos, who recieved some scathing criticism from his new manager for letting in a wonder strike from Miralem Pjanic during United's 3-2 win over Roma.

Similarly, Chris Smalling could have done more. Although not at fault for any dreadful howlers, he has established himself as third choice behind Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in the centre-back pecking order. His nervousness on the ball was evident against Liverpool, and with Thomas Vermaelen strongly linked with a switch to Old Trafford, Smalling may be consigned to the sidelines.

Other staring around Carrington and thinking about what might have been are Nani and Anderson. The club are keen to sell both and will accept almost anything for them. Kagawa, while a player of quality, has done much less to impress the new boss than Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata.

Despite the vitriol aimed at Rooney during the World Cup, United's No.10 has proven he is a class act for the Red Devils. Van Gaal's arrival and his close working relationship with Robin van Persie has presented Rooney with a challenge that he has accepted. Like it or not, he remains the club's most potent and important player.

It is impressive how much Rooney's stock has risen in the past two weeks. He was genuinely under pressure with the appointment of Van Gaal but is indispensable now. In addition, the Dutchman strongly hinted that Rooney could be captain by stating an "English-style" leader would be preferred.

Elsewhere, Ashley Young is a man who has spent most of the past year on the ropes as player. Loathed by sections of the support for his theatrical antics, he has managed to remind them that he can play football too.

His attacking endeavour contains more variety than Antonio Valencia's, and his eye for a spectacular goal is useful. His previously untapped flexibility will be a great asset as he has emerged as the most unlikely replacement for Patrice Evra, with the club moving to a wing-back system.

The auditions are now over for the United squad. With Van Gaal dispatching a trusted aide to run the rule over Marouane Fellaini and Adnan Januzaj back in Manchester, he will have his mind made up about who he wants to keep.

- De Laurentiis: Napoli keen on Fellaini

Although it will take time to finalise the desired signings, players around Europe will be fully aware that United have just beaten Real Madrid and Liverpool and that their new manager means business.

If Ed Woodward can push through the transfer business as smoothly as Van Gaal seems to have uplifted the playing squad, United fans could be enjoying a few more satisfying victories this term. After last year, they deserve it.

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