LONDON, August 4- After returning to the Premier League’s top four, Manchester United have once again recruited extensively, but there are concerns about the balance of their squad ahead of the new season.
Manager Louis van Gaal has spent around £77 million ($120 million, 110 million euros), notably bolstering his midfield with the additions of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin, to take his spending since succeeding David Moyes last year to around £230 million.
With Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao having left and Javier Hernandez out of favour, it leaves Wayne Rooney shouldering a heavy burden up front, but former captain Bryan Robson believes the midfield reinforcements can provide the platform for a first sustained title assault since Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013.
“The manager has built the midfield area to a point where we look strong enough to dictate the tempo of games,” said Robson, now a club ambassador.
“Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin look really good signings. They are going to be the powerhouse of United’s midfield and that should hold us in good stead over the season.”
United fans raised on the all-action displays of players like Robson and Roy Keane have long lamented the lack of oomph in the team’s midfield, but if anything, the club now have too many midfielders on their hands.
United, who finished fourth last season, deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation in pre-season, but van Gaal has pledged to revert to the 4-3-3 system that belatedly brought the team success in the latter part of the 2014-15 campaign.
It means that Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Marouane Fellaini (who is suspended for the first three league games) will be competing for only three starting berths.
With the exciting Memphis Depay, a £25 million acquisition from PSV Eindhoven, expected to start on one flank, Ashley Young, Juan Mata, Antonio Valencia and Adnan Januzaj — and potentially reported target Pedro Rodriguez — must vie for a place on the other side of the pitch.
– De Gea stalemate –
A new £750 million kit deal with Adidas having taken effect on August 1, money is now even less of an object for English’s long-time richest club, hence the hit they were willing to take in offloading Angel di Maria just a year after his record £59.7 million arrival from Real Madrid.
The Argentine’s departure is part of a streamlining process that has also seen Nani, Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva pass through the exit door.
Irked by United’s gruelling travelling arrangements on their 2014 tour of the United States, van Gaal took a firm grip on this year’s trip Stateside, keeping journeys to a strict minimum.
A pair of training camps allowed him to drill his players on the team’s shape and make adjustments in defence, with Daley Blind moved to centre-back, Luke Shaw given a run at left-back and Matteo Darmian, recruited from Torino, introduced to the team at right-back.
But with United having failed in their attempts to lure Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid, former centre-back Rio Ferdinand believes the defence remains an area of concern.
“I don’t think (van Gaal) knows his best defence –- that’s a problem in itself,” said Ferdinand, who wants his former club to sign Everton’s England defender John Stones.
With Ramos’s arrival having been established as a pre-condition for David de Gea to move in the opposite direction, United’s goalkeeper has been left in a position that Van Gaal acknowledges is “not favourable”.
The club’s Player of the Year in 2014-15, De Gea is set to start the new campaign between the posts, but Argentina’s Sergio Romero has been drafted in to provide back-up, further marginalising Victor Valdes.
United begin the season at home to Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday and with a Champions League play-off tie following soon after, they can ill afford a repeat of the sluggish start they made a year ago.