Derby rivals look to inflict wounds ahead of major summer surgery
The winners of the 171st Manchester derby will bolster their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League and improve prospects of attracting elite talent in the summer transfer window. Manchester City lead Manchester United by four points so know victory may all but kill off the hopes of their cross-town rivals.
Eight matches will remain after this latest edition of the fiercely contested local squabble. But, in a league campaign of disappointment for Mancunians of both a blue and red hue, thoughts are already turning to strengthening at each club to try to ensure next season's challenge is far more convincing. Both squads require major surgery.
Conversely, too much churn can damage the dynamics and balance of a playing staff, so the incoming Pep Guardiola and whoever is in charge at United may seek to limit themselves to as few as four major signings. In City's case, that could be two central defenders, a full-back, and a central midfielder. At United, Louis Van Gaal - or Jose Mourinho - could be after a striker, a central midfielder, a wide player and a goalkeeper.
Once the horse-trading begins a key to how each manager operates may be the futures of their captains. At City's base, Guardiola's prime conundrum will be what to do about injury-blighted Vincent Kompany, who suffered a 14th calf injury in Tuesday's draw with Dynamo Kyiv. Across town, Van Gaal or his successor must surely redraw the blueprint for Wayne Rooney, whose days as an effective leader of the attack are numbered. How these questions are resolved will have a significant impact on all the buying and selling.
If Guardiola wants to ease Kompany sideways and into a reduced playing role, would the Belgian accept this? If not but he wishes to complete the last three years of his contract, how might this affect dressing-room morale? The most dramatic solution would be to sell the 29-year-old, but replacing Kompany's leadership qualities is tricky and Guardiola would have to find two top-line central defenders, as one is already needed: Martin Demichelis turned 35 in December and there are doubts over the ability of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi. Candidates here include Athletic Bilbao's Aymeric Laporte and Everton's John Stones, both 21. Both are young, athletic and can see a pass, qualities important to Guardiola. Laporte has a €50m release clause and the bidding for Stones would be in a similar region.
In central midfield, Guardiola may view Yaya Toure as too slow for his high-tempo game. City's director of football, Txiki Begiristain, recently met the agent of 25-year-old Ilkay Gundogan, who is out of contract at Borussia Dortmund in 2017 and would cost £25m.
A further problem area is full-back. On the left, Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov are 30, and on the right Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna are 31 and 33. None of the four are as gifted technically or defensively as Guardiola would wish. If Kompany does depart, Guardiola may be able to replace only one. The fast, attack-minded Dani Alves, one of his first acquisitions at Barcelona in 2008, is his template for right-back. The 32-year-old's contract expires in summer 2017 so would cost £10m-£15m.
What to do with Kompany and the potential domino effect of any decision appears more of a headache than the question of Rooney at United. The Liverpudlian's better, though not perfect, injury record means he retains a firmer grip on the captaincy and first-team status, and to move Rooney from centre-forward to No 10 is no demotion.
Options to replace Rooney at No 9 and offer Anthony Martial competition include Tottenham's Harry Kane and Everton's Romelu Lukaku, both 22. At the other end of the age scale is the 34-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose Paris Saint-Germain contract expires in July. Kane is contracted to Tottenham until 2020 and would cost no less than £45m. Lukaku's Everton terms end in 2019 and his price is in a similar bracket.
In central midfield, Morgan Schneiderlin's is yet to convince Van Gaal to give him a regular chance, and with Bastian Schweinsteiger injury-prone and Michael Carrick 35 in July, a recruit is required. Gundogan would be a definite upgrade and any swoop to grab him ahead of City would delight United fans. Such a move may depend on Champions League qualification, however.
In the wide positions, Memphis Depay and Jesse Lingard are hardly world-class performers who can turn big games. Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez is. Foxes fans may think United are arrogant if they believe the Algerian would want to leave a club in line to become champions for one that could end sixth. But Mahrez, 24, appears a more realistic purchase than, say, Dortmund's equally talented Marco Reus, who is contracted to 2020. Mahrez's deal ends in 2019, and his fee would be £25m-plus and, though such a move would upset Foxes fans, it appears more realistic than Reus.
Finally, David de Gea could depart for Real Madrid. The Spaniard is United's sole world-class player, and finding a suitable successor is a tough ask. Hugo Lloris is Tottenham captain and contracted until 2019. Negotiations for him would start at £25m. Keylor Navas, under contact at Real until 2020, is another option, and he could move the other way as part of any deal for De Gea.
The key, though, to any potential business this summer at City and United is the need for a balanced squad and an optimum dynamic between players. As Manuel Pellegrini, City's current manager, says: "It is very important to have a balanced squad. You can have a very good team but the statistics tell you that it is very difficult for you to have the same team playing all the games."
The challenge for Guardiola and whoever is managing United is to arrive at the close of the window on September 1 having vastly improved their respective squads. It will not be easy.
Sunday Indo Sport