Though they may still make it 4-times a champion on Sunday (however unlikely, its possible), Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United team face a watershed summer in many ways.
The question for Sir Alex to answer is whether he needs to perform major surgery on his team and sign several big name players, or whether he feels his team just needs a mere facelift and sign just one or two players to bolster the squad ahead of next season.
Much will of course now depend on how United’s season pans out on Sunday. If they can win their record 19th league title, the questions that followed recent performances like those in Munich and against Chelsea at Old Trafford will be answered unequivocally.
Or will they?
Ageing squad members will need replacement…
Regardless of the level of success, or failure, Manchester United enjoy in the coming weeks, there are real question marks about their current squad. The likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Edwin Van Der Sar and Ryan Giggs are not getting any younger.
Rio Ferdinand’s persistent back injury must be a concern for the manager, as is Owen Hargreaves long recovery from injury. Then there is the future of Nemanja Vidic, who has been strongly linked with a move away from the club in the summer while Michael Owen may, or may not, have done enough to warrant another contract at the club when his current deal expires in June.
That represents a significant proportion of their current squad and it is an issue which needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Who should Sir Alex target in the summer?
So who will Sir Alex Ferguson, amongst the myriad of transfer rumours linking United with almost every player under the sun, really be paying close attention to with a view to signing in the summer?
Manuel Neuer (Schalke 04) : Edwin Van Der Sar is nearing his 40th birthday and neither Ben Foster or Tomas Kuszczak have proved themselves 100% worthy of taking over from the Dutchman on a regular basis.
A top keeper has been mooted by United observers, and Neuer would fit the bill. United would face stiff competition from Bayern Munich for the keeper dubbed the best prospect in European football, but he would be a long term acquisition for the club that would solve their goalkeeping issues for the foreseeable future.
David Silva (Valencia) : United have been linked with several midfielders in recent times, Jack Rodwell of Everton features notably on many pieces, but for me the signing of Rodwell would be a long term signing with the view that Rodwell would eventually replace Ferdinand or Vidic in central defence.
With Carrick, Park, Gibson, Fletcher, Scholes and with any luck Hargreaves available United are well off for hard working central midfielders but a real flair player is something they’ve lacked at times. Silva would fill this void well and can operate equally productively down either flank and his creativity from midfield would be a welcome addition to Nani and Valencia wide.
Maicon (Inter Milan) : Gary Neville’s not getting any younger and while Rafael is an outstanding young talent, he does lack defensive ability especially against the better quality opponents. A compliment to Patrice Evra on the right flank would make sense and Maicon would be an ideal acquisition due to his defensive quality as well as his attacking prowess. However the Red Devils would face stiff competition from Manchester City should Inter decide to cash in on the Brazilian.
Simon Kjaer (Palermo) : With Vidic seemingly on his way from Old Trafford and Rio Ferdinand’s injury worries unlikely to decrease as he gets older, the need for a top quality centre back is pressing.
Kjaer is one of the most highly regarded defenders in European football and United scouts have purportedly been keeping a roving brief on the Danish defender all season. Expect Kjaer to arrive if, and when, Vidic makes his expected move to Spain in the summer.
Youth may provide the solution to the old age problem…
Other than these four players, and the already sealed deal for Fulham’s Chris Smalling, it is hard to see United spending vast sums on other players. Berbatov and Rooney in attack will be well supported by the emerging Macheda and Welbeck, not to mention the possibility of Owen signing for at least another season. Nani has improved beyond all recognition in the second half of the season and now looks certain to stay and Valencia can build on his impressive first season at the club.
United are already one of the top three sides in the world and although there is a need for the older players to be replaced, their incredible youth policy should allow them to find many replacements for these players from within.
So once again it looks like being a summer of careful, considered buying for Sir Alex Ferguson, with key signings specifically aimed at improving the weaker areas of his team to allow him to keep closing the gap on the likes of FC Barcelona in Europe and at the forefront of the title race in England.
Ian John is a guest contributor to Just-Football.com who can be found over at Punters Realm (www.puntersrealm.com)
(photo courtesy of freakystyleypetey on Flickr)