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By Chris Ravita, Soccer Editor - Archive - Email
Six early summer targets for Manchester United
Wesley Sneijder is a world-class talent who needs to be competing at the highest level.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It is not often that the Red Devils of Manchester United head into the final months of season with the possibility of a trophy-less campaign staring them in their faces.

But with Sir Alex Ferguson's fabled club exiting the Europa League to Marcelo Bielsa's fine-tuned Athletic Bilbao side on Thursday, Manchester United must now rely on English Premier League success to salvage its season.

The Red Devils are well-positioned to clinch their 20th championship in England's top flight as they lead Manchester City by one point, but for a club that has become accustomed to securing multiple trophies each season, league success come May would only mask a rather disappointing campaign by United's lofty standards.

Manchester United was knocked of four different competitions prematurely this season.

Domestically, the Red Devils were ousted from the Carling Cup in November after a 2-1 loss to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford as well as the FA Cup following a 2-1 loss at Liverpool in just the fourth round.

In Europe, United failed to make it out of the group stage of the Champions League for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Red Devils fancied their chances in the Europa League, but were comfortably beaten by a superior Athletic Bilbao side over two legs.

Manchester United's deficiency in cup competitions this season is not necessarily indicative of the quality in the team. Ferguson has his men firing on all cylinders in the league as they are dominating EPL play along with Manchester City.

It is possible that United has struggled in spots this season due to a host of changes made last summer. Veterans like Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes gave way to youngsters like David De Gea, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley. All three newcomers are extremely promising, but United's shortcomings this term reveal that the learning curve takes a bit longer than anticipated.

But the club can help overcome that hurdle with a few key signings this summer. All that is needed is a better balance between youth and experience, sprinkled in with players hitting their prime.

It is still a bit early to speculate who will arrive once the transfer window opens, but here is a list of six players who should be on Manchester United's radar for next season:

Wesley Sneijder (M, Inter Milan)

Long live the Wesley Sneijder-to-Manchester United rumors! The Dutchman's alleged move to Old Trafford was one of the most drawn-out transfer sagas of last summer after Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and Samir Nasri to Manchester City. But with United still lacking some creativity in the final third, Ferguson may be tempted to finally get his man this summer. Sneijder is a world-class talent who needs to be competing at the highest level, and if Inter fails to qualify for the Champions League - the club currently sits seventh in Serie A on 40 points - this move becomes a major possibility, maybe even at a cut rate.

Shinji Kagawa (M/F, Borussia Dortmund)

Ji-Sung Park has been one of Manchester United's best bargains in recent years, but at 31 years old, the South Korean's time at Old Trafford may have run its course. Park has been good in spots this season, but also has been largely inconsistent. Shinji Kagawa would be his ideal replacement, offering the same versatility that Park has brought to the club since joining the Red Devils in 2005, but with a quicker and more dynamic approach to the attack. The 22-year-old Japan international can occupy a position out wide or play just behind the strikers in a complimentary role. Lille's Eden Hazard also has been linked with a move to Old Trafford, but with the Belgian's transfer fee rumored to be in the neighborhood of $40 million, Kagawa could prove to be the better value.

Jan Vertonghen (D, Ajax)

Manchester United's defense has been wildly inconsistent this season. On six occasions across all competitions, the Red Devils have leaked three goals or more in a match. That doesn't seem like a lot, but for a top club competing for multiple trophies each year, a stable defense is of the utmost importance. United's back line has pieces that are either very experienced or very young, but not much in between. Jan Vertonghen could prove to be a vital asset in the coming years to help bridge the gap as Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand near retirement and Chris Smalling and Phil Jones gain more experience. Vertonghen, who turns 25 in April, has been a reliable, tough-tackling central defender for Ajax this season, and United could use a defensive stalwart entering the prime of his career. The Belgian certainly fits the bill.

Leighton Baines (D, Everton)

A move for Everton left-back Leighton Baines seems a bit premature given that Patrice Evra is at the top of his game with Manchester United, but the Frenchman will not maraud the left wing forever. Baines can provide relief in stretches of the season with a heavy amount of matches, but he also can play in tandem Evra by occupying a midfield position further up the pitch. United have always valued outside backs who can get forward into the attack, and the 27-year-old provides the kind of delivery, on set pieces and crosses, that leaves strikers salivating. A Baines move to Manchester United would be a good fit for both parties.

Bas Dost (F, Heerenveen)

Manchester United already has some top-class strikers on the books with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, but should Dimitar Berbatov depart in the summer, Ferguson would do well to replace him with Bas Dost. Berbatov has long been rumored to be on his way out of Old Trafford due to a lack of first-team opportunities, and Dost would add a whole new dimension to United's attack. The 22-year-old striker, who stands at 6-foot-5, is goal-poacher supreme. Dost's habit of getting on the end of crosses and deliveries inside the box has helped the him lead the Dutch Eredivisie in scoring with 22 goals. He could find a great deal of success at Old Trafford with service coming from Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ashley Young and Patrice Evra on the flanks.

Paul Pogba (M, Manchester United)

Sure, Paul Pogba is already a Manchester United player, but that doesn't mean that his needs should not be a priority heading into the summer. The young French midfielder has shown a great deal of promise in the United reserve team, drawing comparisons to Patrick Vieira with displays of exceptional technical ability, composed passing capability, and a rare combination of power and pace. The 19-year-old has found first-team opportunities hard to come by with Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs all keeping Pogba down on the pecking order, but as that midfield ages, Pogba could be in line for more chances in the coming years. Pogba has been rumored to be on the move with Juventus and Manchester City mentioned as possible destinations, but with so much promise and potential, keeping the youngster in United's famous red kit should be a primary target for the club this summer.

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