A point secured at the then-Premier League leaders on Saturday to keep Manchester United a point off the summit is on the face of it hardly a disastrous outcome. But the performance of Louis van Gaal’s side once more failed to impress. While United have been strong defensively and their results have been acceptable, the team has been desperately lacking in attacking sparkle. And although much of the focus has been on Van Gaal’s tactics, the real problem may well be the personnel at his disposal.
Despite spending more than £250 million since taking charge in the summer of 2014, the team lacks true top-class quality in the final third, with a heavy reliance on the still raw duo of Anthony Martial and Memphis Depay to provide the inspiration.
It is no secret that Manchester United have spent much of the last two summers desperately searching for a marquee attacking player to bring to Old Trafford. But pursuits of the likes of Neymar, Thomas Müller and Gareth Bale have thus far yet to bear fruit.
Another star name United have chased is their former hero Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward is enduring a troubled season at Real Madrid, with relations rumored to have broken down with manager Rafael Benitez, and Ronaldo openly flirting with a transfer to Paris Saint-Germain. There is growing momentum behind the idea that Ronaldo will be on the move come next summer, given he will then be aged 31 and be entering the final two years of his current contract.
There are mixed reports, though, on where his next destination will be. Van Gaal recently revealed that he was keen on bringing Ronaldo back to the club he left in 2009, and the Daily Mirror has now reported that the three-time Ballon d’Or winner would relish returning to Old Trafford. However, The Sun has gone as far as to claim that Ronaldo has already given his word to PSG that he will join them if he departs Real Madrid. And given how much United have changed since Ronaldo’s departure and the possibility of a new challenge in Paris, the French champions would appear the current favorites to secure his signature.
Elsewhere there are reports that Manchester United could make a January approach for a player they got an up-close look at on Saturday. Jamie Vardy breached United’s defense to equal the record of former United striker Ruud van Nistelrooy by scoring in his 11th successive Premier League match. And The Telegraph has claimed that both United and Chelsea are eyeing up a possible transfer in January. Yet Leicester are said to be prepared for such an eventuality, and will demand at least £30 million for his services.
That would represent an incredible outlay for any club. While Vardy is enjoying a sensational run of form, he had scored just five Premier League goals prior to this season. And given he will turn 29 in January next year, he is unlikely to have any real resale value.
At the other end of the age scale, Manchester United have also been linked with an interest in FC Basel 18-year-old Breel Embolo. The Switzerland Under-21 international has scored five league goals this season, while adding another two in the Europa League. And it is in the Europa League where he caught the eye of United’s chief scout Peter Braund, according to Swiss publication Blick. Competition looks set to be intense for the forward’s signature, however, with Wolfsburg among the clubs thought to be interested.
Blick also claims that United’s scout was primarily in attendance in Switzerland last week to check on Borja Valero, who was turning out for Basel’s opponents Fiorentina. Given the number of exceptional Spanish midfielders, Borja’s playmaking and tempo-setting skills have often gone under appreciated. But the 30-year-old could have caught the eye of Van Gaal after playing a key role in Fiorentina’s fine start to the Serie A season.