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Just how close are Manchester United to winning the league?

The Boot Room

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Around three weeks ago, true to his eccentric reputation, Louis van Gaal stole the show at the Manchester United end of season awards with a drunken monologue described by Gary Neville as the “funniest twenty minutes of his life.” Amidst the slurring, the yelling and the occasional dictatorial hand gesture, van Gaal boldly declared that his team is “very close” to becoming a title-winning side once again.

Was it the booze talking? Rival fans and many reputable pundits have said so. But with another huge summer of spending seemingly on the horizon, a fresh mood of optimism has settled on Old Trafford and for many supporters a title challenge is much more realistic than the nay-sayers allow.

There is no question that on the pitch the team is in a much healthier position than this time last year. After all, the table doesn’t lie, and in both economic and symbolic terms there is a huge gulf between a fourth and seventh placed finish. In purely numerical terms, however, the money-throwing van Gaal regime has only been able to deliver six more points than the gloomy reign of tragic hero David Moyes.

A closer look at statistics doesn’t exactly reveal a mini-revolution under the Dutchman. In defence, a slight improvement was achieved with five less goals conceded compared to the previous season, however even with the dreamy firepower of Rooney, Van Persie, Falcao, Mata and Di Maria, the team managed an underwhelming return of 62 goals – six less than the previous seasons total. The side’s away form wasn’t exactly exemplary either.

But of course stats don’t tell the whole story. On course to regaining Champions League football status, United put an emphatic end to a run of awful derby results, and picked up hugely impressive victories at Anfield and The Emirates. This team may only be a six-point-improvement on last years, but under LVG they’ve gone toe-to-toe with the big boys on more than one occasion and landed crowd-pleasing, winning punches – something Moyes simply wasn’t unable to deliver.

United’s hopes of taking the likes of Chelsea and City to the wire over thirty-eight games next season could well hinge on the the movements of David de Gea. The PFA keeper of the season has rescued the side more points than his defenders would probably care to remember over the last two seasons however is said to be moving ever-closer to a move to Real Madrid. His fellow Spaniard and number two Victor Valdes is a gifted shot-stopper but is notoriously unreliable under the cross and unlikely to be trusted with the number one shirt.

Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris has been discussed as a potential replacement if de Gea were to return to his place of birth. The Frenchman could well be lured by the prospect of Champions League football and is certainly more than capable of excelling at that level. The destiny of de Gea is likely to be the saga of the summer. According to Guillem Balagué, Florentino Pérez believes he has his man. However, until an official announcement is made, the young Spaniard remains on United’s books.

If van Gaal manages to retain his freakish talents it would be the club’s most crucial business of the window for sure. United finished seventeen points behind Chelsea last season and without de Gea’s heroism the margin could have been a lot less flattering. Losing him would be a huge backwards stride and severely damaging to any title aspirations.

What of the incoming? Well, one can safely assume that there will be some additions given the behaviour of the club in the last summer window. But who fits the bill? And perhaps more importantly: what is the bill? What do United need to become a title-winning side?

Gareth Bale is a name that has appeared on the BBC Gossip Column on more than one occasion in recent weeks. The Welshman has yet to win the hearts of the Madrid fans and has come under fire for his insularity as well as on-the-pitch work ethic. Incidentally the ex-Tottenham man has scored thirty-nine in two seasons for Madrid including a goal in the 2014 Champions League final. It’s a tough gig at the Bernabéu. Of course, there’s no doubt that Bale would be a shirt-seller, but is he a necessity?

With Mata, Di Maria, Young, Rooney, Januzaj and now the highly-rated wonder-kid Memphis Depay all vying for places in the starting eleven, it is hard to provide a case for Bale as a round peg for a round hole – rather a shiny and expensive square peg for a round hole. The addition of Falcao last year inspired one of the finest fan-made footballing analogies in recent memory: “United signing Falcao is like buying a plasma screen TV for your conservatory when your conservatory roof has a hole in it.” The prospect of Bale joining United has a similar feel.

United’s more pressing issues relate to the defensive zones of the pitch. The Dutchman’s side didn’t concede a huge amount of goals last season however on many occasions were worryingly-generous in their awarding of chances to the opposition. Phil Jones hasn’t quite progressed at the rate demanded by his early promise while Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans continue to divide the opinion of fans. In defending aerial threats in particular this current side suffers from a fragility that must be addressed.

Is Hummels the man? The German international has been rumoured to be a target for the reds for some time now. Real’s impressive young centre back Raphaël Varane is another name that keeps on cropping up too. Blind and Rojo have enjoyed steady first seasons while in Blackett and McNair United have talents worth investing time in, but if this team is to have a serious chance of lifting the trophy next season then special attention must be paid to bolstering the backline.

If dea Gea was United’s most precious asset last season, then Michael Carrick wasn’t too far behind. Prior to his season-ending injury, United won an impressive 72.2% of matches with his experience in midfield, yet without him the win rate was at a concerning 35.2%. These stats reveal two things: 1) Carrick remains very effective and is still an underrated footballer and 2) United currently have nobody to step up to fill the Carrick void.

Blind is clearly a sound technician but often appears under-powered when up against more physical teams than he was used to in the Eredivisie. Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundagaon is said to potentially be on his way to Old Trafford after the exciting German refused to extend his contract at Dortmund and a player of his talent and attitude could well step up to the job.

Already being an established Premier League midfielder, Southampton rock Morgan Schneiderlin is another option for van Gaal. Southampton are likely to request a sizable fee for the French international, but United would be investing in a guy proven in his ability to dominate the middle of the park – the type of midfielder United have lacked ever since the departure of Keane.

Can Manchester United win the league next season? If shrewd spending takes precedence over huge spending and David de Gea remains at Old Trafford then there is no reason why not. However in a hugely competitive market the former will be a challenge and with Madrid sniffing the latter may well be increasingly-unrealistic.

Unless these stars align it is unlikely that the red side of Manchester will be celebrating a title win this time next season. However, with a handful of talents likely to be added and many lessons learned from the season before, expect van Gaal’s men to rack up an improved points total and perhaps even an assault on second place.

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West Ham United

Marlon Santos joining West Ham would be ideal solution to defensive woes

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Photo: Getty Images.

There will be a summer of change at West Ham United this summer and with James Collins leaving the club there will be a spot opening up in defence. Reports from Spain indicate that the man to fill it could be Barcelona youngster Marlon Santos.

The Brazilian joined the Spanish giants permanently last summer after impressing for their B team and earning a first team debut in 2016/17 and spent pre-season with Ernesto Valverde’s first team before being sent out on loan.

Now, reliable Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo say that West Ham are interested in taking the defender on loan next season after he has impressed in France, playing for OGC Nice, making 27 appearances during his loan spell.

(Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)

The 22-year-old has also been linked with Leicester but with West Ham believed to be leading the chase, it would be a wise move from Manuel Pellegrini to seal a deal as soon as possible.

Strong in the tackle, Santos would also bring some much needed pace to the West Ham defence. Replacing the likes of Collins and Jose Fonte who departed in January, the arrival of a fleet-footed defender would be a welcome turnaround at the London Stadium.

It may also suggest a change in style, with the former Fluminense youth product known for his ability on the ball, often looking to dribble out from the back to get his team transitioning from defence to attack.

Pellegrini is clearly putting the building blocks in place to build a side in his own image, and bringing in Marlon Santos would be a cheap and sensible addition to fix a major problem area.

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Tottenham Hotspur

Malcom would add another dimension to Tottenham’s attack

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Photo: Getty Images.

After an impressive 2017/18 campaign, Tottenham are already beginning to plan for 2018/19 and are keen to make a statement in their first season in a new look White Hart Lane. One way they may do so is with the addition of Girondins Bordeaux forward Malcom.

Sky Bet currently list Tottenham at 7/2 to sign the Brazilian, just behind favourites Manchester United in the running at 3/1, and such an acquisition would bring an exciting new element to Mauricio Pochettino‘s attacking set-up.

Predominantly playing on the right wing, Malcom may offer more width than many of the options within the Tottenham squad, but much like Heung-Min Son and Erik Lamela, he likes to dribble on the ball and cut inside, offering a direct threat rather than looking to cross into others.

The 21-year-old scored 12 goals in 35 Ligue Un games for Bordeaux this season and whilst not exactly prolific, would help to add goals to the Lilywhites’ midfield and reduce the reliance on Harry Kane.

(Photo credit should read NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP/Getty Images)

He also has some similarities to the likes of Christian Eriksen as a superb set piece taker who likes to shoot from distance, helping to add another dimension as Tottenham look to break down more defensive sides who sit deep in hope of frustrating them.

With huge potential to develop even further, Malcom may not come cheaply but would represent an interesting project for Pochettino to get even more out of him. Whilst he bares many similarities to Erik Lamela when he arrived in north London, if he can avoid injury he could go on to become the player Spurs had hoped to see Lamela become.

His pace and threat would add a much needed option into the Spurs attack, complimenting the playmakers like Eriksen, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura and supporting the goalgetter Harry Kane. Strength in depth is key in Tottenham’s quest for silverware and Malcom would be a step in the right direction to achieving it.

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Newcastle United

Fulham promotion opens up £15m exit for Aleksandar Mitrovic

The Newcastle United star is likely to move away from the club this summer.

Mathew Coull

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Fulham won promotion to the Premier League yesterday with a 1-0 win over Aston Villa in the Championship play-off final. The Cottagers scored in the first-half through Tom Cairney to rightfully take their place back in the top-flight of English football.

It was a tremendous performance and in the summer Fulham will be looking to bring in some new faces to help them stay in the top-flight. One of those faces, will not be necessarily new. Aleksandar Mitrovic has been brilliant for Fulham since joining on loan in January.

The Serbian striker has scored 12 goals since his arrival at Craven Cottage and will no doubt be wanted permanently at the club.

Is this good news for Newcastle United?

There has been plenty of talk regarding the Serbian’s exit from St James’ Park in the winter. Many fans on Tyneside are wondering whether the club should have kept him at Newcastle, considering his goal record in London.

(during the Premier League match between Newcastle United and Watford at St. James Park on November 25, 2017 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.

However, it is clear that Rafa Benitez is not a fan of the player and the Spaniard certainly made things work without him.

The best thing for Newcastle right now is to sell him and ensure they bring in enough money to cover the cost of his original signing.

Fulham represent their best option to do so. Newcastle want about £15 million for the player, according to the London Evening Standard, which is the fee they paid for the Serbian in 2015.

Fulham will no doubt want to bring him to the club this summer, but would not have been able to bring him to the club had they failed to secure promotion to the Premier League.

The Cottagers can now afford the player and Mitrovic’s price-tag is unlikely to be a problem with the bonus they will receive for heading into the top-flight. Newcastle must be pleased that Fulham earned promotion, as it will allow them the best opportunity to move Mitrovic on without a major loss.

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