Dress it up however you like but Manchester United, and more importantly Louis van Gaal, are having an indifferent transfer window at best.
Sure they’ve got their hands on Luke Shaw, and Van Gaal has been able to accomplish what David Moyes couldn’t in completing a deal for Ander Herrera, but there’s also a fair few moves they're struggling to push through. On the face of it this summer’s transfer dealings have been one hundred and ten percent more fruitful than last years, but is that really saying much?
Regardless of the plans Van Gaal has for the club moving forward, or the shake-up which he is so expertly orchestrating, the pertinent fact remains; there are areas of the pitch that must be strengthened. Ranking as perhaps the highest priority for the Dutchman is the centre of defence.
The high-profile exits of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic duly weakened United and now, with Van Gaal intent on implementing his 3-5-2 formation - which of course requires an extra centre-back - there is more need than ever for an experienced head to come in and steady the ship. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans currently account for the sum total of Van Gaal’s options and, put bluntly, none are of the required level to command the back-line yet.
The centre-back issue
The United boss knows it just as well as the fans do, hence why he made Thomas Vermaelen a primary target upon his arrival in Manchester. Then, after Arsenal declined to play ball with their bitter Premier League rivals and instead sold to Barcelona, it was Mats Hummels who became United’s most wanted.
But if a deal for the German international looked unlikely before, it’s feasibility has all but been eradicated now. Jurgen Klopp has installed the 25-year-old as his club captain, and you’d have to be a very brave man indeed to bet on Hummels repaying his faith by up and leaving for a side which can’t even offer him European football next term.
The third option
There now remains one more option if Van Gaal is looking to bring in an attainable talent who will suit his needs and be willing to forego Champions League appearances for a season. With Vermaelen and Hummels off the cards, Eliaquim Mangala today having signed for Manchester City and other targets such as Adrien Rabiot and Kostas Manolas severely lacking in experience at the highest level, Mehdi Benatia is the sole surviving candidate.
The rumours would have you believe that Van Gaal is all too aware of this, and has already targeted him ahead of a proposed £30 million offer. Is there an obstacle to overcome? You bet. Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho is said to be willing to fight his United counterpart every step of the way with regards to the capture of the Moroccan star in question, and guaranteed first-team football is about the only incentive Van Gaal can offer than The Special One can’t.
Regardless of that though the Dutchman simply has to find someway to lure Benatia to Manchester over west London. The 27-year-old is possessive of the sort of pedigree needed for Van Gaal’s system to work on the defensive front, and his progression in the past year since his €13 million move from Udinese to Roma has been nothing short of spectacular.
Without him United will be left to either kick off their new campaign with Evans, Smalling and Jones or be forced to bring in someone at the last minute and risk them not being ready for Premier League football. Vermaelen and Hummels may have snubbed him, but Van Gaal really can’t afford to let Benatia do the same.