Manchester United kick off the 2014/15 Premier League season this weekend when they host Swansea City. Supporters are excited about the new era under Louis van Gaal, even if the 2012/13 champions lumbered to a seventh placed finish last term. Some supporters, however, feel the club have not been active enough in the transfer window, despite the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw.
Reports suggesting United will move for Mats Hummels were all but laid to rest when Dortmund announced the defender will captain the side this term. Meanwhile, the club are still being linked with moves for Arturo Vidal, Kevin Strootman and Daley Blind, coinciding with the number of players supposedly told they have no future at Old Trafford under Van Gaal. One of those whose days at United appear to be numbered is full-back Rafael. The Brazilian has reportedly been told he is free to find a new club before the transfer window closes amidst rumours the Manchester outfit are stepping up their interest in Juan Guillermo Cuadrado.
The Colombian was WhoScored's highest rated player in Serie A last season (7.69) and he transferred his superb Fiorentina form onto the international stage, registering more assists (4) than any other player at the 2014 World Cup. Only James Rodríguez (8.40) had a better rating than Cuadrado (7.50) of all Colombia players, capping what has been a stunning 12 months for the wideman.
Capable of playing anywhere on the right side of the pitch and the left when needed, the 26-year-old is seen as the perfect fit for Van Gaal's United side. The Dutchman is expected to play a 3-4-1-2 formation if their pre-season outings are anything to go by and Cuadrado would slot in seamlessly at right wing-back. The incredible fitness levels of the Fiorentina star means he could perform the transition from defence to attack and back again with relative ease, providing a further offensive outlet on the right or help form a 5-man defence.
Focusing on his attacking output, not only does a wing-back need to be up and down his flank like a yo-yo, but he needs to know what to do with the ball when he is passed to. Cuadrado certainly knows what needs to be done when in possession. The wideman completed more successful dribbles (118) than any other player in Serie A last season, with the Colombia international putting his speed to good use. Opposition sides clearly noted Cuadrado's attacking influence and strived to limit his impact at any given opportunity.
Last term, Cuadrado was the most fouled player (116) in Italy's top tier, though that did little to discourage the speedster, who netted 11 league goals and registered 5 assists. The attacking qualities of the player are not in doubt as his feats in Serie A in the 2013/14 campaign show. However, his goalscoring and creative exploits are down to him playing on either the right or the left of Fiorentina's 3-man attack in Vincenzo Montella's favoured 4-3-3 formation. Van Gaal, though, would not be expected to gift him the attacking freedom he enjoyed in Italy last season.
Starting him in a deeper role is unlikely to hinder his attacking impact, however. 22 of his 34 league starts came at right wing-back in the 2012/13 season, yet Cuadrado scored 5 and assisted 6 in what many believe was his breakthrough campaign after catching the eye the previous season with Lecce. His debut year with Fiorentina saw him average a notable number of tackles (2.5) and interceptions (1) per game, highlighting his defensive capabilities, though he still averaged an impressive 3.3 dribbles per game, further accentuating his offensive talent from a deeper position.
He has demonstrated his worth time and time again for club and country and it goes without saying that his acquisition would significantly strengthen this United team. While his defensive input lessened last season as he was used in a more advanced role, Cuadrado has proven himself in a more deepset role in both a defensive and offensive capacity. Van Gaal values high-energy players at wing-back having used Dirk Kuyt in the role at the 2014 World Cup, despite this not being his natural position. Kuyt performed admirably on either the right or left and it's little wonder that Van Gaal is supposedly interested in signing the 34-year-old.
"He's (Luke Shaw) not very fit and can't perform how I want," Van Gaal said of the 19-year-old last month and despite the England international's notable fitness levels, he clearly is not yet up to the Dutchman's standards, even though the teenager is expected to start at left wing-back against Swansea on Saturday. Cuadrado, though, has the natural fitness to bomb up and down the right flank for 90 minutes that would appeal to the United boss. Van Gaal can call on Antonio Valencia at wing-back, but it's fair to say Cuadrado would be a superior alternative.
Fiorentina would be loath to losing the Colombia international, but with Barcelona also sniffing around, the Viola may struggle to hold onto their star performer. United are not quite the finished article and daily reports linking them with a host of stars come as little surprise, but it's unquestionable that signing Cuadrado would significantly improve their chances of returning to the summit of England's top tier in Van Gaal's debut season at the Old Trafford helm.
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