This season’s title race is not over just yet after Manchester United salvaged a last gasp 1-0 win at Eastlands and Chelsea stumbled to defeat against Tottenham. The Blues must still visit Anfield, ensuring plenty more drama in the weeks ahead. Man Utd have not given up hope just yet.

However, it does not take a genius to realise that all is not well at Old Trafford. Even overlooking the tense situation regarding the Glazers, United have issues to address. And, with any big European club, it’s a safe bet that plans for next season are already being drawn up.

The truth of the matter is that this season’s title race has been different from recent years. The top teams have slipped up more often – to the credit of the likes of Aston Villa, Manchester City, Burnley and others – and no team has consistently dazzled. This was a year that a good team, not a great one, would lift the trophy. And yet United may let the prize slip away.

As predicted last summer, this United squad has its limitations and is too dependant on a handful of key players. For stretches during this campaign this fact was hidden, largely by the brilliance of Wayne Rooney. Yet the lasting impression will be that United have not had enough quality to call upon.

So expect an interesting summer, regardless of the outcome of the title race. It remains to be seen how much money Ferguson will have to spend but there are obvious holes to plug. Three areas stand out as the United boss plots a mini revamp of his squad.

First, the champions need a reliable right back. At present, Rafael Da Silva is still maturing, Wes Brown is injury riddled and Gary Neville has been exposed against quality opposition. Rafael’s lack of experience cost United in the Champions League against Bayern Munich and Ferguson cannot afford such lapses. The rest of the back four – Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra – is up there with the world’s best but the right back slot needs attention.

While Rafael appears to be the long-term answer, a couple of names jump out as useful additions for the present in this position, though their availability is unclear. Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos would be a high end option – and might be tempted to leave the Bernabeu after several disappointing years – while Bayern Munich’s Philipp Lamm is another top drawer performer.

Next, a cultured midfielder capable of scoring ten goals a season is a real necessity. As Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs near the end of their careers, United must provide fresh legs to complement them. Darren Fletcher had an outstanding season and will remain a regular for years to come, but Michael Carrick’s form was patchy and his prowess in the last third remains limited.

While United are unlikely to lure Xavi or Andres Iniesta away from Barcelona, it is this type of player they are so badly missing. A central midfielder with vision, quick feet and a good engine would make a huge difference alongside Fletcher. In short, they need Scholes in his prime.

Assuming United can throw around £25M at this problem, the likes of Lyon’s Miralem Pjanic, Bordeaux’s Yoann Gourcuff and Roma’s Daniele De Rossi look attractive options and would take some of the pressure off the strikers with their knack of finding the net. Valencia’s David Silva is another playmaker who has long been linked with United.

The third area to address is even more glaring and that is finding a partner for Rooney. Ferguson still loves the 4-4-2 formation but Dimitar Berbatov’s low confidence and often feeble contributions have made that unworkable.

Instead, the 4-5-1 system has regularly been employed. This helps protect the weary legs of Scholes but a reliable strike partner for Rooney would relieve some of the burden on the England man’s shoulders. United swooped for talented Mexican Javier Hernandez this month, but the feeling remains that a proven front man is required, especially as the Michael Owen gamble failed to bear fruit.

Without breaking the bank, United could pursue Gabby Agbonlahor or even Robbie Keane. And of course, in an ideal world, they could table an offer for Valencia’s prolific striker David Villa. The addition of a predator like Villa would, in itself, push Ferguson’s side closer to matching Barcelona.

Of course, the United boss may well have considerably less to spend than the £70-80M or so required to address these three problem areas. But he could add to his transfer kitty by offloading Berbatov or even temperamental winger Nani.

It should be noted that after losing Cristiano Ronaldo last summer, United have exceeded expectations in pushing Chelsea all the way. But until they find the weapons to support Rooney, the Red Devils will struggle to match Europe’s finest.


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