By Greg Hudson
Liverpool and Manchester United both made headlines this summer as the two English giants completed several majors moves, signing and selling big names throughout the pre-season. But looking at each club’s outlook for the future, it is indeed a tale of two cities.
Let’s start in Liverpool, where things look to be heading for the best of times. The club handled the departure of volatile striker Luis Suarez with class, and considered it wiser to invest the over $100 million revenue from his sale into strengthening the squad as a whole, particularly the defense, and to do so primarily by signing young talent.
Defenders Dejan Lovren, Javier Manquillo, and Alberto Moreno all joined the club in the summer, while midfielder Adam Lallana and winger Lazar Markovic also arrived at Melwood to complete their transfers. Lovren and Lallana are already established and highly-rated in the Premier League after success at Southampton last season, while Manquillo, Markovic, and Moreno all arrive from the Iberian Peninsula – Manquillo and Moreno from Spain and Markovic from Benfica in Portugal – and none of the trio is over the age of 21.
Meanwhile Manchester United look headed for the worst of times, and the desperate moves they made this summer show the fear at the heart of the once-great club. Three of last year’s starting four defenders are gone, as Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have all sought pastures new. Meanwhile strikers Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck have left the club, and veteran leader Ryan Giggs has announced his formal retirement. It left the Devils with many holes to fill and they generally did a poor job of it.
They did sign big names. Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera join as positive attacking midfield options and Daley Blind could serve useful as a holding midfielder. But they did not sign any quality defenders. Fullback Luke Shaw, the 20-year-old Southampton prodigy, was pried from Saints for a handy $45 million, but no other moves were made to shore up a back line which was porous at best last season when Vidic and company were still around.
They made a desperation move on the transfer deadline day, signing Monaco striker Radamel Falcao on loan. Not only is the deal temporary, it doesn’t solve the problem. An already top-heavy side with great attacking options and a shaky defense now sits even more precariously balanced, with such a plethora of attackers that new maager Louis van Gaal will have difficulty finding a way to use them all, and such a blight of quality defenders that he’ll need his 3-5-2 system to work to avoid fielding four defenders when only three are really worthy of a shirt.
United have stated that their goal is to finish in the top four, to secure Champions’ League action next season after missing out for this year. But the simple fact is that there’s no balance at Old Trafford and the Devils are doomed to stumble and fall short of those ambitions until they can create a squad that’s top-rate from front to back. Until they can, they’ll fall behind their northwest rivals Liverpool, who have made a move to strengthen the club for the present AND the future.
For the two biggest clubs in the history of English football, the summers were very similar, as players joined and departed with regular frequency. But for these two neighbor clubs who play just 35 miles apart, it was indeed a tale of two cities.