Manchester United Rumors: Leighton Baines Should Be Red Devils' Primary Target

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2013

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Leighton Baines of Everton is challenged by Aaron Ramsey (L) and Mikel Arteta of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and  Arsenal at Goodison Park on November 28, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Manchester United have been linked to numerous prospects this transfer season, and many of them would be good fits. Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama would provide a dynamic option opposite Michael Carrick, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa would provide valuable depth behind an aging centre defense, and Wilfried Zaha would provide any team with energy down the wing.

None of those targets would be vacuous for the Red Devils to pursue; they would all contribute in their own ways. But in terms of pressing needs and logistics, no player should be sought after more urgently than Everton's Leighton Baines.

Please understand that this is not merely a reaction to Wednesday's beautiful goal against Newcastle. I swear it. His 35-yard free-kick strike was a thing of beauty, sure. And Manchester United could use that set piece ability, just like any other club in the world. But Leighton Baines' potential impact far outreaches his occasional long-range shooting.

As we turn into the heart of January, United sits rather comfortably atop the Premiership table. With 17 wins and one draw to just three losses, they sit seven points ahead of Manchester City and 11 ahead of third-place Tottenham.

On the surface, they would appear to have it all figured out. But a closer look reveals an untenable deficiency along their back line.

The Devils have thrived on the strength of their attack, leading the Premiership (by a wide margin) with 54 goals scored. That's good for almost three per contest. But their 28 goals allowed are worse than every team on the top half of the table—closer resembling the defensive prowess of Sunderland than that of Chelsea.

On separate occasions they've conceded multiple goals to Fulham (2), Tottenham (3), Southampton (2), Stoke City (2), Chelsea (2), Aston Villa (2), Reading (3), Manchester City (3) and Newcastle (3). That's almost half of their games.

Regardless of standing, that cannot continue in the future.

Patrice Evra continues to provide a threat moving forward, with his four league goals being a testament to that skill. But his declining defensive skills are almost laughable, which is problematic since, last time I checked, he plays on the defensive side of the ball.

Leighton Baines is a technical master on the outside of a defense—someone capable of providing a boon, rather than a liability, to United's back line. His ability to move forward is comparable, though slightly less impressive, to that of Evra, but who cares? United have enough weapons on the attack, enough means by which to score.

By bringing in Baines—regardless of how exorbitant Ferguson considers the price—the Red Devils would be sending a message to the rest of the league: I dare you guys to score on us now.

And that's a message every club is hoping not to receive.