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.[separator type=”thin”]
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Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract
The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.
Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.
He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.
Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.
It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.
Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.
“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.
“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.
“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”
Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.
It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.
Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.
They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.
There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.
This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.
Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.
Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.
This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.
He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.
A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.
Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line
The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.
The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.
Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”
The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.
Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.
Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.
From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.
Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.
Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.
Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.
This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.
But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.
In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.
Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week
The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.
With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.
Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.
In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.
Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.
One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.
The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.
Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.
This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.
If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.
It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.
Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.
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