It is season number two for Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United and expectation levels have risen higher than just finishing in the top four, almost reaching the dizzy heights of life under Alex Ferguson. The Old Trafford faithful are expecting a title charge but with the added stress of Champions League football to contend with, will Van Gaal’s men be up to the task in the coming campaign?
Story of Last Season
2014/15 was a season of two very contrasting halves for Louis van Gaal and Manchester United. Fresh off a successful World Cup with the Netherlands, the former Barcelona boss was expected to be the man to galvanise United and guide them to a return to the top of English football straight away. He certainly did not mess about in the transfer market. In came Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Radamel Falcao, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind for a great deal of money but early performances suggested that Van Gaal might not be around for too long. An opening day home defeat to Swansea saw doubts creep in to the minds of the Old Trafford faithful and those were not eased as The Red Devils stumbled and stuttered from one poor result to another. Dumped out of the League Cup 4-0 at MK Dons, perhaps the lowest point for the Dutchman was seeing his side throw away a 3-1 lead at Leicester to lose 5-3.
The effect was to spur LVG on and after the 2-1 win at Arsenal in November, Manchester United never once dipped out of the top four in the league. Admittedly, there were some poor results along the way; a first home defeat to Southmapton in 27 years, Swansea doing the double over them for the first time in their history, and a home defeat to West Bromwich Albion, but United managed to put in enough good displays to ensure they finished fourth and secured Champions League football for this season.
Memphis Depay (PSV, £31 million) – PSV’s star man as they won the title last season, the links to Cristiano Ronaldo have already been pulled out by Manchester United fans excited for the Dutch winger’s potential.
Matteo Darmian (Torino, £12.7 million) – Van Gaal’s solution to United’s right back problem, Darmian has impressed at Torino and internationally for Italy with his attacking endeavour and defensive security.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich, Undisclosed) – A little bit older and with a few more injuries in recent years but there is no doubting the quality of the World Cup winner. He adds to Manchester United’s midfield in several aspects of play on the field in addition to big game experience.
Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton, £24 million) – Heavily linked with moves away from the south coast for a number of years before United finally secured his signature this summer. Seen by many as one of Europe’s most complete midfielders, Schneiderlin can make The Red Devils’s engine room into a frightening prospect for the opposition.
Sergio Romero (Sampdoria, Free) – Out of contract at Sampdoria and played in a World Cup final, the intention for Romero is to provide quality back-up to David De Gea. It is believed that if the Spanish ‘keeper does depart for pastures new in the next couple of months, Romero will remain as second choice with Manchester United in the market for a world-class replacement.
It is Rooney’s eleventh season at Old Trafford and there is an argument to be made that the United captain might just be the most complete player in the world today. He can play anywhere and do just about anything which has seen him play in midfield and out wide in his time at Manchester United. However, with a lack of striking options available to Van Gaal this season, the shackles have been taken off the England captain to be the man that fires The Red Devils to glory. He certainly has the technical capability to do it but what really sets Rooney apart is his incredible winning drive and competitiveness. In a team with notably very few winners, the number 10 is a success-laden inspiration that will lead from the front.
With Angel Di Maria; at the time of writing, still negotiating his move to PSG, there are few players in the Manchester United side that can link midfield and attack. Fortunately for Van Gaal, his predecessor David Moyes left him a £37 million gift in the form of Juan Mata. Unwanted by José Mourinho, Mata seemed to be struggling at Old Trafford until the latter half of the last campaign where he returned to the sort of form that made him a favourite at Stamford Bridge. The tricky Spaniard has the ability to unlock defences with his incredible passing from a wand of a left boot, and will be the main service link to Rooney up top this season.
Impressive at the World Cup, Rojo had an acceptable first season in the Premier League but a lot of pressure is going to be on his shoulders this season. With Manchester United’s two year search for a centre back showing no signs of coming to a conclusive finale, Rojo is being looked at by some as the Old Trafford outfit’s best centre back. He is aggressive, mobile and tough to beat but has shown some irrationality at times with United. He needs to be the calming influence in a back line that is desperately short of a true quality.
In my opinion, this looks to be Manchester United’s strongest line-up for the upcoming season although Louis Van Gaal may not agree. Some possible changes are Jonny Evans in the side for either Smalling or Jones and Luke Shaw replacing Ashley Young.
There seems to be a much better balance in midfield for United this season with Schneiderlin’s all-action and combative style aiding the calm play-maker Schweinsteiger beside him. The duo of Rooney and Depay up top is frightening on paper but if one picks up an injury then United have only James Wilson and a currently sidelined Javier Hernandez as back-up which could become a problem. Centre-back depth is also an issue with only Jonny Evans, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett as cover for the starting three.
Single-minded and successful nearly everywhere he has been, Louis van Gaal has been an entertaining choice as Manchester United boss. Full of little quotes and entertaining moments, what he has done off the pitch with the mentality of the club has been something very interesting to observe. When Sir Alex Ferguson departed, he appeared to take the air of invincibility with him and Van Gaal is slowly bringing it back to Old Trafford, in addition to the ability to win matches when playing poorly. What is also interesting about the quirky manager is that he is not afraid to sell some of the bigger players and fashion his own side rather than be gradual about change. It is his single minded nature that is driving United forward and might just push them to be successful this season.
First Six Fixtures
Tottenham (H), Aston Villa (A), Newcastle (H), Swansea (A), Liverpool (H), Southampton (A)
Manchester United’s opening to the season is far more difficult than the one they botched last time around but there is something a little different with The Red Devils now. A higher quality squad and a more settled side means that there is less trepidation about these games than before. Manchester United should be picking up maximum points in their opening three matches as both Spurs and Newcastle have pretty shoddy records at Old Trafford while Villa historically tend to struggle against United. Swansea and Southampton away will be tough propositions that The Red Devils might sneak points out of while Liverpool at home really depends on how good Brendan Rodgers’ side turn out to be this season. Looking at the first six games in particular, I believeUnited will probably end up with 13 points after which should leave them in and around the top four spots; an excellent start for Van Gaal’s side.
Final Standing Prediction – 2nd
There is definitely an air of improvement this season for Manchester United and a more settled team should mean better performances. A platform for success exists for Louis Van Gaal and his side but I think they will fall just short of the title this season. There are far too many concerns for me with depth in certain areas and the defence does not seem like it is up to scratch to win the league. That being said, United will run the eventual champions very close especially if they can drastically improve their home form.
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