David Moyes' arrival at Manchester United to fill the managerial vacancy by the great Sir Alex Ferguson means that the Red Devils could witness several changes in the squad during the summer.
Although it's virtually impossible to predict as to what Moyes will exactly do, here are some areas that the Scot might need to strengthen in the pre-season.
At the age of 32, Patrice Evra is entering the twilight of his career. The Frenchman is no longer the same player who once competed with Ashley Cole for the title of the world's 'best left-back'. With increase in age, Evra is gradually losing two of his most important defensive traits- pace and positioning sense. It's no doubt that Evra can be a great threat when venturing into the final third. He created 24 chances last season (joint-seventh highest in the United side), while he also netted four times for the Red Devils (his second biggest scoring tally since turning professional).
However, the problem arises on the defensive front- Evra lacks the willingness, pace and stamina to track back in time. This makes United vulnerable to counter-attacks as there is too much space behind Evra to exploit.
The France international's back-up, Alexander Buttner is a decent candidate, but hasn't developed at same rate as one would have hoped. Added to that, statistics suggest that the Dutchman is a worse defender than Evra.
Buttner has a tackling rate of just 64% (Evra- 82%), while he wins just 50% of his aerial duels (Evra- 62%). Playing in physical and demanding league like the EPL, these two characteristics are hugely important for a defender. Moreover, even though he possesses the required pace, Buttner fails to provide defensive cover in a timely manner and can also be clumsy with his tackles.
Fabio Da Silva is another option but his growth more or less stagnated at QPR last season.
Hence, Moyes could do well by roping in Leighton Baines from Everton. The England international has been one of the most consistent full-backs in the league over the past two years and is a valuable addition to both ends of the pitch. He can provide the required width and pop in pin-point crosses, while at the same time, track back to defend. Most importantly, unlike Evra, Baines shows the willingness and work-ethic to ensure his presence at the back.
Moyes' Everton mainly played down the flanks. For this, the 50-year-old preferred midfielders with tidy ball distribution skills and ones also capable of providing defensive cover when the full-backs attacked. Darron Gibson and Leon Osman did a wonderful job in this avenue last season.
Gibson was the field dictator (also doing the defending), while Osman produced unnoticed and mercurial defensive showings. Although not a true defensive midfielder, Osman averaged 2.3 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game- a fairly admirable stat for a player who has not been really known for his defending.
At United, for the Gibson role, Moyes has a much better player in the form of Michael Carrick. However, the Red Devils do require an Osman-esque presence- someone who could facilitate Carrick.
Although Carrick is even a better defender of the ball than Osman, his main role is to build-up play, like Gibson's role at Everton. Hence, United require someone to do the dirty work in the midfield and at the same time, also show decent passing skills.
I find Kevin Strootman the perfect man for this role. The Netherlands international can intercept plays, pass the ball neatly to his colleagues and his arrival will finally allow Carrick to concentrate more on the playmaking role rather than the dual role of also ensuring the back-four isn't breached easily. If the rumors are to be believed, my wish might just come true.
Although this is not an area to be 'strengthened' but Moyes does need to think who will play behind Robin van Persie at United.
During his Everton days, Moyes preferred a physical and attacking midfielder for the second striker role (Tim Cahill and Fellaini), providing him with the luxury of switching between 4-4-1-1 and 4-5-1 as and when required during games. However, with the possible availability of both Shinji Kagawa and Wayne Rooney, Moyes might not get the opportunity play with a robust and aerial presence behind the striker.
Instead, since Moyes likes link-up plays and quick-attacking football, he might go with Kagawa for this role.
The Japan international is technically gifted player and his mobility allows him to regularly drifts on the wings to provide support to the flank-men and create 3 vs. 2 situations, something Moyes will like due to his preference for wing-play.
Rooney on the other hand, is more of a field-dictator and a direct goal-scoring threat. He likes to drop deep, distribute the ball to the wings and then make late runs into the box. His pace is waning and he can't quickly transform the team into an attacking unit like Kagawa.
Luis Nani might leave, but Wilfried Zaha will arrive from Crystal Palace and I feel Moyes might give another season to impress to both Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. Moyes likes archetypal wingers and hence, it's hard to see him being impatient with the current lot of United's wingers. Not to forget, Giggs and Welbeck can operate also down the flanks.
However, one should note that Giggs is near retiring, Welbeck is not productive in terms of goals and assists and if Moyes does decide to get rid of either Young or Valencia, United could be in the market for a new winger.
And what United need is another player like Zaha. Obviously, I don't literally mean buying a player of his Zaha's exact qualities, but rather targeting someone who could add more trickery and unpredictability to the wings.
Zaha's arrival will give United a new flank option as they'll finally have a player to actually run at the full-backs. Last term, most of the time, both Young and Valencia even failed to get past their marker to produce a cross. This made the duo way too predictable and hence, lackluster. Therefore, another skilful player like Zaha could help.
In-fact Moyes could do well by trying to renew Nani's contract and selling Valencia instead. The Ecuador international is a one-dimensional player, who has struggled to settle into United's new-found playing style of possession-based football. Since Moyes is also a big advocate of dominating possession in the oppositions' half, Valencia won't be able to utilize his main strengths, which are his pace and stamina, as he'll be only provided with limited space.
Moreover, with James Rodriguez joining AS Monaco and the dream return of Cristiano Ronaldo looking unlikely, Nani appears to be the only viable skillful and creative winger for United at the moment.
Goalkeeper- Hard to see Moyes dumping David De Gea after the stellar season the Spaniard has had.
Centre-Back- Rio Ferdinand has just signed a renewal, Nemanja Vidic can still go strong next term and finally, United have plenty of options via Jonny Evans, Phil Jonesand Chris Smalling
Right-Back- Rafael Da Silva is the ideal man for this role.
Striker- Robin van Persie will obviously lead United's attack next season, although we could buy another poacher if Rooney leaves.