After a rather flat season under the management of David Moyes, United are back and they mean business. There’s a new boss, a new captain and a new sense of hope around Old Trafford.
Last season was definitely one to forget for supporters of the Red Devils, who watched on in horror as their team capitulated under the guidance of a manager completely out of his depth. Two thrashings at the hands of their city rivals, back-to-back home defeats to Everton and Newcastle, and a brand of football that was all too predictable was enough to see Moyes out the door after only 10 months in charge.
In Louis Van Gaal United have a coach who is ready to change things. Managing some of the best players at famous clubs like Barcelona and Bayern Munich has fully prepared him for what is to come. He has already stamped his authority on the squad, telling £27 million summer signing Luke Shaw that he was unfit and had to train by himself for a while. Forget blending in, Van Gaal is here to get some serious work done. He hasn’t just brought some fresh discipline to the team, he is also willing to spend time on the training ground handing out individual advice. Wayne Rooney and Antonio Valencia were spotted getting shooting tips from him during the pre-season tour of the United States.
Rooney is also United’s new captain for the 2014/15 campaign, with Darren Fletcher as vice, which is a move that shows trust in his abilities on and off the field. In a sensible move, Ryan Giggs has been kept on as assistant manager and can lend his experience, based on a career that started in 1990, to the squad.
The fixture list is also shorter this season without the added pressure of the Champions League, although the board will want that to change as soon as possible. An unbeaten pre-season campaign will help confidence and several big changes to the squad seem to be having a positive effect on the atmosphere in the dressing room.
Overall, the whole club looks refreshed and ready to get back to winning ways.
Two major signings have been completed so far this summer, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw costing the club a combined £56 million. Shaw comes in to fill the gap at left-back now that Patrice Evra has departed for Juventus and backup Alex Buttner was sold to Dynamo Moscow.
Herrera is definitely more of a tactical purchase, one that United have been chasing for a few seasons now. His passing ability and composure make him an excellent addition to a midfield that might start the season in a 3-5-2, presumably alongside Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher.
There have been some obvious outgoings, like Bebe’s sale to Benfica and Federico Macheda’s free transfer to Cardiff City. Several youth players, including Michael Keane and Jesse Lingard, have been sent out on stereotypical could-benefit-from-first-team-football loans. The other departures were confirmed earlier last season, when it was announced that defensive duo Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were to leave the club. Vidic now plays for Inter Milan while Ferdinand has joined Queens Park Rangers.
One to watch
Adnan Januzaj. We saw glimpses of his fantastic passing accuracy, great attacking pace and raw skill last season but this year will be even better. Gifted going forwards from the wing or down the middle, he will provide that spark of entertainment from the first minute on the opening day.
His first senior goals after a solid run in the United team during December and January earned him a place in Belgium’s 2014 World Cup squad and, while his playing time was limited due to his lack of experience, he got his first taste of international competition when he made his senior debut against South Korea in the group stages.
Now wearing the coveted No.11 shirt, Januzaj can surely learn more and develop from such a positive start to his Manchester United career.
A new belief within the squad and management at United seems to indicate good times are coming. A return to form will see them close to the summit by the end of the season. Especially without the distraction of the Champions League, the Red Devils will be fitter than ever and have a definite advantage over their closest rivals for the title.
There are still a few concerns over squad depth. Luke Shaw won’t be fit for the opening day of the season which means no natural replacement at fullback, however this might not be a problem in a 3-5-2 as Ashley Young can step in on the left wing. For the first time in months, United don’t have an obvious starting XI. For the first time in a year, it is very clear that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Finish: Top Three
How do you think Van Gaal can fare in his first season in charge of Manchester United in English football? Can they challenge for the Premier League title or will top four still be a challenge? Let us know in the comments or on twitter @TBRFootball .