Do Manchester United need to buy again?
Much of the debate surrounding the end of the playing careers of the final members of Manchester United's brilliant early 1990s youth operation has surrounded purchases. But over the years Sir Alex Ferguson has consistently brought through youth players to replace stars, sometimes, like David Beckham, after giving them a taste of the real world on loan. So in addition to the big money spent on Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea there may well be four long-term loanees returning - can they make a difference or will they be destined to generate a few million further down the line?
In the short term I'm going to assess their development by estimating each players chance of featuring in 20 first team games in the coming season - which is a good indicator as to whether a player has moved from the fringes into a true first team squad player.
Second half of last season at Sampdoria, started three league games - was a substitute in 11 more; no league goals, but one Coppa Italia goal.
Last season was a tough time for the Italian striker in a team that was eventually relegated he didn't get a consistent run in the team and has expressed his delight to be back in Manchester because he feels that younger players get more of a chance in England. Still only 19 he's developed into a physically imposing, not merely tall, striker that has scored some key goals in his time. With nearly 50 first team appearances in England and Italy to his name already Macheda looks hungry - and Dimitar Berbatov will have cause to worry for his place after a couple of goals for the Italian in the first game of the American pre-season tour.
Macheda's Italian representative career - he has played for the Under 16s, 17s, 18s and 21s - suggests that he has a decent pedigree. Four goals in nine games for the under-21s point to an improving strike rate.
Player he could replace: Berbatov, Owen.
20 first team games in 2011/12? 6/10
Spent much of the last three seasons on loan at Leicester, Watford and latterly Wigan and will turn 22 next month.
Cleverley was very impressive for much of last season at Wigan but whether he will get 20 games for United in the coming season will be very interesting given that he's played almost 80 games for other clubs on loan without making his United competitive debut. Cleverley has been progressing with each loan spell; played most of the games in Leicester's run-in to the League One title in 2009; he was voted Watford's player on the season in 2009/10 when scoring 11 goals from midfield and last season he again scored key goals for Wigan, this time in the Premier League, in their successful relegation scrap.
Cleverley's international representation before the under-21s was a single game, whereas he has now become of mainstay of that side. All this suggests that he is a comparatively late developer who has adapted and improved each year. Unusually for an outfield loan player almost all of his games have been as a starter which suggests that he trains well but at his age if he doesn't make the break-through this season he will probably have to move on if he is to get his usual amount of game time.
With Scholes and Hargreaves gone, and Gibson likely to move on as well this could well be Cleverley's big chance - especially if United fail to sign a big-money central midfielder.
Player he could replace: Scholes, Hargreaves, Gibson, Anderson, Park Ji Sung.
20 first team games in 2011/12? 5/10
Spent six months at Preston before the whole of 2010/11 at Sunderland.
Another mainstay in the England under-21 team Welbeck started over half of Sunderland's league games last season scoring six goals usually on the flank of a three man attack; but for injuries he would probably have started over 30 league games. Whether he is going to end up as a full blown striker or an energetic attacking midfielder or wide-man is open to question, but as he's only 20 years old that question can wait.
Whether his touch is good enough for the very highest level is debateable, but his pace and enthusiasm guarantee him a future in the top flight - but in the short-term another season long loan may well be the best way for him to develop into a regular first-team player at United.
Player he could replace: Park Ji Sung, Owen, Berbatov, Giggs.
20 first team games in 2011/12? 3/10
Mame Biram Diouf
Three goals in 27 league games for Blackburn last season doesn't suggest he is about to oust any of the established United strikers this season.
The outsider of the quartet for me, Diouf has been touted as another Didier Drogba - which may yet come to pass, but the older Diouf was four years older when he became ready to play at the very highest level. A season at Old Trafford seems likely to see him vie with Macheda and Welbeck to be fifth choice striker behind Rooney, Hernandez, Berbatov and Owen. So he may be better getting experience away from Old Trafford given that apart from last season almost all his first team football has been with Molde in Norway. But he is 24 in December, if he's not good enough yet the probability of him ousting the queue of goalscorers in front of him seem very small - unless United decide to switch to playing with a non-goalscoring target man.
Player he could replace: ?
20 first team games in 2011/12? 1/10