Gary Lim: Stones should be van Gaal's marquee signing
Shoring up a shaky defence should be van Gaal's top priority
Louis van Gaal has a marquee signing on his mind.
Reports in the UK are strongly suggesting that it is Barcelona's Pedro Rodriguez, whose speed and creativity have caught the Dutchman's eye.
The glamorous signing which Manchester United fans would be rooting for, however, is Real Madrid's Gareth Bale.
It has emerged that United have lodged two unsuccessful bids in excess of £100 million ($215m) for the former Tottenham Hotspur winger.
But van Gaal is in danger of sacrificing the basics for opulence.
It is further down the spine where the Red Devils should be looking for their final piece of the jigsaw.
Everton's John Stones fits there like a glove.
Never mind that attacker Angel di Maria is on the verge of leaving the club for Paris Saint-Germain.
The Argentinian was never a vital piece of the United machinery last season, so his impending departure won't leave United's attacking department wanting.
And Pedro and Bale won't solve van Gaal's biggest problem - a shaky defence.
The foundations of the Old Trafford outfit are creaking.
Van Gaal identified the chink in his armour, but missed out on Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos.
But, with just days to go before the season-opener against Spurs on Saturday, surely the United gaffer must start pulling out all the stops to land a top man for the central defender's job.
Stones looks like the answer to United's defensive woes, which crept into their game several seasons ago when the Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic axis started to go into decline.
He has a burgeoning reputation that grows by the week, and youth on his side.
Just 21, the Barnsley-born centre back already has four England caps and 44 English Premier League appearances under his belt.
Quick, strong and brave in the tackle, he put in a stellar display to silence Wayne Rooney, Marouane Fellaini and Radamel Falcao in Everton's 3-0 win over United last season.
On that day in April, Stones was exactly what United badly needed in their own penalty box.
Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have not looked convincing in the heart of the backline, while youngsters Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett look some way from making a giant leap into becoming Premiership material.
Van Gaal has earmarked compatriot Daley Blind for one of the two centre back slots for this Saturday's opener against Spurs, while the other spot is expected to be fought out between Jones and Smalling. He is not exactly spoilt for choice.
Stones' composure and ability on the ball remind one of former United man Ferdinand, who urged the club to make a move for the Chelsea target.
And United, Ferdinand said, have a better chance of snagging the 1.88m-tall defender because of the prospect of more playing time than he is expected to get at the London club.
The Blues reportedly had bids of £20m and £26m turned down, so United may be looking at a price tag around the £30m mark.
But inflated transfer fees are not deterrents for United these days.
What will look really silly, however, is if they don't get their priorities right with all that money lying around.
I don’t think (van Gaal) knows his best defence — that’s a problem in itself. Part of the reason he doesn’t know it is because he hasn’t had a chance to watch them all play over a long time — consistently for 12 or 15 games. If you don’t get that familiarity between you as defenders, it’s difficult to build foundations.
- Ferdinand, seeing plenty of room for defensive improvements at Old Trafford
STONES’ STATS LAST SEASON
Appearances in EPL