Champions League football is within Manchester United’s reach this season but Louis van Gaal must bolster his central defence, says Sam Wallace, of The Independent.
United have lost both Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand since missing out on qualification for Europe’s premier club competition by finishing seventh in the Premier League last season.
Van Gaal – who last week steered United to victory over Liverpool in the International Champions Cup final – can still call on the services of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones but Wallace told The Sunday Supplement that reinforcements are needed.
“What they would take this year is Champions League – and I would back them to get into the Champions League.
“It’s very easy to dismiss pre-season and a lot of the World Cup players aren’t playing in the games but when you go back to David Moyes’ pre-season, it really was a case of what was to come; it went quite badly.
“I think he is very brave, playing with a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 formation; it looks interesting and he’s obviously telling his players they are going to go for it this season.
“I would just say that he needs more centre-halves. If you are going to play three centre-halves every week and you look at some of the records of some of his centre-halves, it is quite bad.
“They’ve missed out on Thomas Vermaelen this week; they are going to have to sign another centre-half.
“But clearly Van Gaal has got a lot of stature. I don’t think we’ve seen definitively what went wrong with David Moyes – I don’t think we’ve really had that insight. That might come with time.
“But what is evident about Van Gaal is that he has the stature and the teams on his CV.
“The only thing I’ll come back to is he was never a contender a year ago when Moyes was appointed; I know he was a year from a World Cup with the Dutch team but I still believe that a massive part of his attraction was that he was available and they didn’t have to spend the whole summer chasing him."
Henry Winter, of the Daily Telegraph, said that for all his tactical nous, Van Gaal first has to address an unbalanced squad – and he doesn’t think that the potential signing of Angel Di Maria should necessarily be the top priority.
The Sunday Mirror reports that Van Gaal says he lacks a world class winger but Winter is convinced that the United boss must focus first on his defence.
“He’s got many qualities but one specific one is that he changes games,” he said. “Look at his substitutions. You can go back to the 1995 Ajax Champions League final against AC Milan when he brought on Patrick Kluivert off the bench.
“He makes tactical changes during games as well – we saw that particularly in the World Cup. He’s brave in his substitutions; he will take off big name players.
“If Wayne Rooney or Robin van Persie are not delivering for United, Van Gaal has such an ego that he will take them off.
“He’ll have a few rucks with us [journalists]; talking to the Manchester boys, it’s all been very smooth so far but there will be some fireworks flying around those press conferences.
“He’ll definitely shake United up. I think he probably needs at least two centre-halves. Vidic and Ferdinand are seriously-experienced centre-halves to replace.
“Ashley Young has been doing well as a wing-back and Luke Shaw can mature into that role. But he’s been talking about Angel Di Maria, who is not really a wing-back – he’s an out-and-out winger.
“The obvious thing he’s done is move Juan Mata into the No 10 position and he’s been creative there but Van Gaal has got to address an unbalanced squad. If you look at the different teams that he’s coached, Van Gaal has not been a slave to any particular formation.”