Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed throughout the season that he's quite content with his current squad. Therefore, when considering this and Manchester United's usual reluctancy in the January transfer window, it was hardly surprising that the only bit of business in the past month was the deal for Wilfried Zaha. The 20-year-old winger was then promptly loaned back to the Crystal Palace for the remainder of this season.
With the most recent transfer window now closed, this seems like a prudent time to take an inventory of the current squad and look to see if there are any obvious needs for the summer transfer window. Here's a position-by-position examination of the current squad -- the players mentioned are either first-team players at United or those on loan to another club. Their ages will be given in parenthesis. Some players will be listed in multiple positions because of their versatility. Part 1 (of 2) will cover goalkeepers, central-defenders, and full-backs.
What we currently have: The current No.1 is the tremendously talented David de Gea (22). The Spaniard is already a world-class shot-stopper but he is prone to vulnerability when having to come out for crosses. Undoubtedly, he needs to improve on his command of the box. However, the criticism for him by the U.K. media has been excessive and it's been nice that the club and supporters have generally been very supportive of the young goalkeeper. These next few months, though, will be important for him if he wants to establish himself as the clear No.1 prior to the summer transfer window. de Gea could use a run of standout and mistake-free performances like the ones he provided last season at this time of the year.
Anders Lindegaard (28) appears to be a very solid back-up. The Dane is an adequate shot-stopper and he has decent command of his box. He seems to be a strong and positive personality as well and he's ambitious enough to push de Gea. Youngsters Ben Amos (22) and Sam Johnstone (19) are the next players in the pipeline. Their futures at United may be dependent on if de Gea establishes himself or not due to similarities in age.
Is there a need?: In my opinion, no. If de Gea struggles through the run-in though, Ferguson's patience could run out and he may go shopping for another 'keeper. Stoke City's Asmir Begovic (25) is a player that continually has been linked to United. With the Potters recently purchasing the highly-rated Jack Butland (19), Tony Pulis may be fine letting the talented Begovic go.
What we currently have: Ferguson is fortunate that he has five very talented central-defenders and there is also variety in their ages, experience, and skill-sets. The old guard -- Nemanja Vidic (31) and Rio Ferdinand (34) -- are no longer world football's best center-back duo but both are still very good when available. The Serbian was arguably the world's best defender as recently as 2011 but knee injuries make his future uncertain. If he can play once a week for the run-in, that would be invaluable for this campaign and it would also signal that United can perhaps depend on him next season. Ferguson has already made it clear that he wants Rio back so hopefully the former United and England skipper makes a return. The Englishman is a bit vulnerable defending in space nowadays but he's still so solid and dependable in general. The leadership that both Vidic and Rio provide, as well, is vital to the squad.
Jonny Evans (25) is a player that certainly divides opinion because, despite his talent, many feel he's always prone to making a mistake. In the past season-and-a-half though, the Northern Irishman has been United's most dependable central-defender and he was one of the Premier League's top players at his position for the 2011-12 season. Ferguson had made it clear that he rates the player. Evans is likely to be a significant part of United's future, whether that is a regular starter or as a useful player for rotation. It remains to be seen if he can reach the standard that Rio and Vidic set in their primes.
Chris Smalling (23) and Phil Jones (20) are the two intriguing younger central-defenders on the squad. Smalling had a very successful debut season at the club in 2010/11 and when Rio struggled with injuries that season, the then youngster impressed in big games when partnered with Vidic. Since then though, Smalling has struggled with his own continual injuries and he's had difficulties getting a consistent run of games. He certainly has potential and talent but he needs games for polishing and also for United to see if he's the future. Jones has made it clear that he prefers being deployed as a central-defender. However, the England international is quite versatile and there are lingering concerns whether he's dependable enough in aerial duels for a central-role in the physical Premier league.
Next in the pecking order are youngsters Scott Wootton (22) and Michael Keane (20). Both players are currently on loan to Championship sides. Both players have a long way to go to prove that they can be first-team players at United.
Is there a need?: Not really at the moment. However, this is probably dependent on if Rio decides to return or not next season and if Vidic's knee holds up for the run-in. If neither can be counted for the next campaign, it's possible that United look to bring in an experienced defender.
What we currently have: At right-back, United are pretty much set: Rafael da Silva (22) has started to establish himself as clear first-choice -- this is perhaps symbolic by him wearing the #2 shirt now -- and as one of the best in the Premier League. His energy and tenaciousness make him valuable in both attack and in tackle. His biggest improvement, though, has been his positioning as he's been less prone to being caught out this season. Smalling, and Jones more so, are capable deputies and provide decent depth. Right-winger Antonio Valencia (27) can provide emergency cover as well.
At left-back, the durable Patrice Evra (31) is the clear first-choice. The Frenchman is dependable in that he's always fit and available for selection. However, his form has fluctuated during his time at Old Trafford: a shaky start to his United career, progression to being a genuine world-class full-back, a massive dip in form the past two seasons, and then better form this season. Evra is past his prime and United essentially admitted this by their recent pursuit of Everton's excellent Leighton Baines (28). As of now though, it appears he will be back next season.
Future options at left-back currently include Fabio da Silva (22) and Alexander Buttner (23). The Brazilian is on loan to Queens Park Rangers at the moment but he's shown flashes of talent in the past at United. It may be easy for some to forget that he started the UEFA Champions League final in 2011 at right-back though. It's uncertain if Ferguson has him in the future plans for United. The deal for Buttner in the past summer was probably a bit of a flier and also for providing cover for Evra, who was overused in the 2011/12 season. The jury is still out on the energetic Dutchman.
Is there a need?: Not immediately, unless an instant upgrade can be found at left-back. Don't be surprised to see United -- once again -- inquire about Baines in the summer. At some, and probably soon, United need to find out who will be their future at left-back.