Hummels is the answer to your defensive woes, van Gaal
Mats Hummels is the man for Manchester United.
In many respects, he is the only man; the one potential signing guaranteed to close gaps and silence critics.
Louis van Gaal must sign the Borussia Dortmund centre back. Whether he gets lucky in this transfer window or returns with a bigger bag of carrots at the end of the season, the United manager should get the German's signature.
Van Gaal desperately needs a target that fits, a firm, definitive square peg in a square hole.
His purchases so far have as many question marks as they have defensive qualities.
A couple of injuries denied Marcos Rojo a shot at consistency and Luke Shaw's youth and comparative inexperience have reduced the newcomer to bit parts and cameos.
Both men deserve better from their enigmatic coach and his exasperating formations, but then the same could be said for most of the squad.
At first glance, van Gaal has bought the right players for the wrong formation, suggesting his ego trumps logic.
After his sterling performances for Argentina, Rojo was a popular choice in various World Cup best 11s. He excelled at left back.
Against Cambridge United, he popped up at right back, the wrong end of a surreal back four that also included Phil Jones, Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind.
Van Gaal defies popular convention. Every line-up is another a tale of the unexpected.
No player should ever take his place for granted. But under van Gaal, no United defender can ever take his position for granted.
The Dutchman's tinkering has certainly stalled Shaw's progress, with names and numbers rotated across the defence and the former Saint often sacrificed.
A recent injury hasn't helped. He was back on the bench against Cambridge and came on for Blind three minutes before the final whistle.
The substitution summed up Shaw's first season for United. It was neither here nor there, rather like van Gaal's defensive acquisitions.
He has opted for style over substance, bringing in too many leading men rather than establishing a tight ensemble.
Signing Hummels would change that perception.
The German World Cup winner ticks every box on the most demanding of United checklists.
He brings both guile and gumption. Utterly fearless, the 26-year-old exudes authority and confidence.
Without him, Germany lost their way in the World Cup Round of 16. When he returned for the quarter-final against France, they were resolute once more.
He was a towering presence, his influence acknowledged later by coach Joachim Loew.
With Hummels in the side, Germany looked like World Cup winners in waiting, unhurried and unflappable; the very qualities that have often eluded United's defence.
A strong, robust character, Hummels revels in a physical challenge. He rarely boils over in a volatile cauldron.
United's current defence struggles to get through a training session without picking up a knock.
Physically imposing and comfortable in possession, Hummels is a reliable, reassuring presence, calming those around him in a way not too dissimilar to Nemanja Matic at Chelsea.
At times, United's three stooges have projected only panic. For four seasons, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling served long apprenticeships, toiling in the long shadows of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
David Moyes gave them a chance, insisting United were no club for old men. Their inconsistency contributed to his downfall. And their inability to play in a back three has damaged van Gaal's standing this time around.
He rotates because he doesn't have the resources.
If anything, the trio's struggles only compound Moyes' error in dropping the old guard and explain why Sir Alex Ferguson massaged Ferdinand's bad back for so long.
The veteran defender's spine was less brittle than his back-up on the bench.
Hummels displays no such weakness. He promises to bring not only a physical fortitude to the back three (or four), but he will also reinforce van Gaal's spending record.
The United manager needs a hit. His signings do not quite constitute flops, but they are hardly runaway successes either.
Van Gaal's erratic spending policy and his insistence on forcing an unfamiliar system on 4-4-2-raised players are causes for disquiet among the United faithful.
The Dutch gambler has taken too many punts on potential. Hummels offers a rare chance to back a raging certainty.
Neil Humphreys thinks that along with Hummels, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Southampton’s Nathaniel Clyne will form the best backline for United. Do you agree?
Tell us in the poll below
BY THE NUMBERS
Mats Hummels garnered an average rating of ?9.66 out of 10 on Fifa's Top 10 Players index at last year's World Cup. The 26-year-old was fourth, just behind Stefan de Vrlj (9.7), Arjen Robben (9.74) and Toni Kroos (9.79).
Back three or four? He fits them all
VAN GAAL'S DREAM DEFENCE?
Nathaniel Clyne. PHOTO: DARREN STAPLES
Mats Hummels. PHOTO: JASON CAIRNDUFF
Marcos Rojo. PHOTO: JASON CAIRNDUFF
Luke Shaw. PHOTO: LEE SMITH/ACTION IMAGES
Louis van Gaal's back three could make sense if he signs Mats Hummels.
Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw were his signings, clearly earmarked for pivotal roles in the future; a future that looks bleak for existing personnel.
If Hummels joins United, either in this transfer window or the next, LVG's infamous back three suddenly fits.
The German is predominately right-footed, but often plays on the left side of central defence.
Either way, his favoured foot raises the possibility of a back three of Shaw, Rojo and Hummels. It's the boldest, most attack-oriented back three, heavy on pace, but light on defensive cover.
Alternatively, Hummel's reliability could see him babysit one of the existing defenders alongside Rojo (freeing Shaw to play wingback, with perhaps Antonio Valencia on the other flank). Based on experience, the third man might be Phil Jones.
But honestly, if van Gaal really didn't trust the current lot, he could even go with the most radical back three of Daley Blind, Rojo and Hummels.
And, to throw a final spanner in the works, the United coach has often claimed he doesn't have the staff to pick the system he really wants.
He has played with a back four at his other clubs. So maybe, just maybe, this could be the United defence he really wants: Shaw, Rojo, Hummels and Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne.
Those fantastic four wouldn't just settle United's defensive debate. They'd be the best back four in the Premier League.
Fletcher can leave for free
Manchester United have told vice-captain Darren Fletcher he can leave on a free transfer.
Fletcher was a regular in Louis van Gaal's starting 11 on the pre-season tour, but the arrival of Angel di Maria and Daley Blind has restricted the Scot's playing time.
Fletcher, 30, has started only four EPL games this season and PA Sport understands the midfielder has been informed he can end his 20-year spell with the club this month if he wants to.
West Ham are said to be leading the chase for his signature, but Valencia and West Brom are also interested in signing the player, who was made United vice-captain shortly after the squad returned from the United States last summer.
Striker Robin van Persie is also in the dark over his future. The Dutchman's contract expires at the end of next season and he concedes he does not know if he will remain at the club. - Wire Services.