Window Shopping: Skeptics of Manchester United’s chance to qualify for the 2014-15 Champions League saw January as a crucial transfer window for the Red Devils. After much-ballyhooed failures at the summer deadline saw the team miss out on Athletic’s Ander Herrera and Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, the defending champions navigated the fall with multiple areas of need. If they were going to fight back from seventh to fourth, United would need to address both their defense and midfield.
That didn’t happen, though the club did break its record transfer. Juan Mata’s purchase now claims that honor, with the Spanish international liberated from Chelsea’s bench after United shoved $61 million into Roman Abramovich’s pockets. Though Mata’s first two games have produced mixed results (the Red Devils splitting games against Cardiff and Stoke), nobody can say Ed Woodward and David Moyes sat on their hands while United’s top-four hopes faded.
Whether United’s management acted wisely is another matter. The team didn’t heed cries to buy in defense, but given the squad’s options, health (not money) might be the better cure. In midfield, however, the Red Devils have persisted with Alex Ferguson’s policy of neglecting the team’s most biggest flaw. While Mata will surely help Manchester United’s attack, it’s unclear how he’ll address the team’s more glaring holes.
Players In: Juan Mata (Chelsea, $61 million), Jesse Lingard (Birmingham City, return from loan), Michael Keane (Derby County, return from loan)
Players Out: Anderson (Fiorentina, loan), Fabio Da Silva (Cardiff City, undisclosed), Wilfried Zaha (Cardiff City, loan), Federico Macheda (Birmingham City, loan), Thomas Lawrence (Yeovil, loan), Sam Byrne (Carlisle, loan), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Fulham), Samuel Johnstone (Doncaster, loan), Thomas Thorpe (Birmingham City, loan), Larnell Cole (Fulham, undisclosed), Will Keane (QPR, loan), Tyler Blackett (Birmingham, loan), Charni Ekangamene (Carlisle, loan)
Getting Mata goes a long way toward a good grade, but United overpaid. Based on this weekend’s loss at Stoke, they also seem willing to move the Spaniard out of his best position, casting Mata as an extremely talented but overpriced player for whom United are unable to carve out a position. Mata may excel wide and justify every pounds spent. He may also leave Red Devils’ fans wondering what $61 million could have done in midfield and defense.
It’s still difficult to argue United haven’t gotten better in the winter window, which it why I’ve given them a passing grade. But given their needs, the Champions League stakes, and their resources, the Red Devils could have done more.