William Carvalho and Central Midfielders Manchester United Should Look to Sign
Manchester United need to sign a central midfielder. It has been the story of the club's transfer windows for the past two or three seasons and, despite the overdue capture of Marouane Fellaini last summer, the issue remains.
Starting midfielder Michael Carrick has been poor this season, Fellaini failed to get out of the blocks, Phil Jones is increasingly likely to settle in defence and Darren Fletcher has yet to prove he can still perform at the top level.
Tom Cleverley, meanwhile, has become a scapegoat for the club's woes among a section of the support.
Sporting midfielder William Carvalho has been cited as a major target for much of the season, as reported by the Mirror's Steve Bates in March. Recently, though, progress appears to have slowed.
Who, then, can United's new manager look to as a solution to the club's midfield malaise?
The Prime Target: William Carvalho
Portuguese defensive midfielder William Carvalho has been the revelation of the 2013-14 Liga Sagres campaign, winning four Player of the Month awards as Sporting made a long-awaited return to challenging for honours.
It is not difficult to see what is so attractive about William's game. Physically, he is mountainous, and though he rarely uses that strength to thrust forward in the manner of Yaya Toure, it makes him an imposing defensive presence.
Carvalho's game is one based on simplicity at present. He is a good passer of the ball and keeps possession ticking over, while he is intelligent in his defensive work ahead of the back four.
His potential is enormous, but his transfer fee will be similarly massive if the Red Devils come good on their interest this summer.
The Marquee Option: Kroos, Fabregas Et Al.
For the second summer running, there have been reports that Manchester United are looking to some of the biggest names in football to build their next generation of title challengers around.
In 2013, the club got their pursuit of superstar names wrong. Both Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara were chased and United ultimately ended up empty handed. For new chief executive Ed Woodward, it was a chastening experience.
This year, attention has turned firmly towards Bayern Munich and Toni Kroos, with the Express' James Dickenson reporting that a deal is possible. The Daily Star's Paul Hetherington, meanwhile, suggests interest in Cesc Fabregas is far from over.
United cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of last year and must ensure that any attempt to bring in a major name is not simply time wasted in vain. Agents can be very misleading when they are looking for an improved deal for their client.
The "Xavi of de Kuip," Netherlands midfielder Jordy Clasie will be one of the most watched midfielders at this summer's World Cup, with onlookers keen to discover how he copes on football's biggest stage.
Should Manchester United, as seems fairly likely, hire Louis van Gaal as their coach this summer, the Dutch manager would be widely expected to turn to those who have served him well with the national side. Clasie is an important figure in that squad.
United missed out on his compatriot Kevin Strootman last summer, allowing him to move to Roma after a substantial period spent tracking his progress. Despite injury ending his season early, he has been a major success in the Italian capital.
Clasie is a diminutive figure who would have been deemed unsuited to the Premier League in years gone by. The division has changed, though, and such a wonderfully gifted distributor at the base of midfield would surely settle well.
With few midfielders as talented as Clasie available, he is well worthy of consideration.
The Bundesliga is very much Europe's most fashionable shopping destination at present and has plenty to offer besides Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Mainz defensive midfielder Johannes Geis, for example, is a largely unheralded 20-year-old bound for big things.
Geis is the most defensive-minded member of the Mainz midfield, with his job to retrieve possession and spread play to the side's more attacking options. His range of passing is good, while he reads play quickly when protecting his defence.
For someone so deep in the pitch, though, he has an excellent five assists to his name this season, per Whoscored.com. On average, he has created 2.1 chances per game this season, and while his pass percentage is low at 75.7 percent, it can be explained by the speed with which Mainz look to attack.
Should his performances continue, he will be snapped up by a big side before long. United should look to beat the rush, especially if they are in the market for more than one midfield option.
If United are looking for a bit of steel to hold their side together from defensive midfield, Lyon's France international Maxime Gonalons is well worth consideration.
Given their connections with the French league, speculation has long linked the Lyon man with Arsenal. No move has transpired, though, and he remains in a side that is not offering the standard of football he requires at this stage of his career.
Gonalons is now 25 and has a handful of France caps to his name. To compete with the likes of Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba and Yohan Cabaye, though, he really needs to be testing himself on Europe's biggest stages on a regular basis.
Adept at breaking up play and recycling possession, Gonalons is ideal for sides looking for somebody to help them gain a foothold in midfield. He guarantees industry in front of the back four, but his passing quality should also not be overlooked.
Another who will be hoping to use this summer's World Cup as a springboard to bigger things is Switzerland international Granit Xhaka, who responded to a slow start to life in Germany with an impressive Bundesliga campaign this time around.
For Borussia Monchengladbach, he has been used predominantly in a deep-lying midfield role. Given that he can play further forward, his passing has been predictably impressive—completing just under 87 percent of those attempted—while his defensive contributions are also strong.
Standing at almost 6'1" and of substantial build, Xhaka is the kind of physical presence United have lacked in midfield with considerably better mobility than Fellaini. He has the potential to be a real box-to-box threat if used alongside someone such as Michael Carrick, or indeed play as the deepest man in midfield.
He has had a good year and will hope to cap that improvement by making an impact in Brazil. United, if unconvinced, should monitor his performances closely.