Manchester United are going into their second season without Sir Alex Ferguson and already they have their second manager since the Scot retired. It was never going to be an easy task, was it? Although this time, Manchester United fans should be more hopeful. There was confidence about David Moyes, given his ‘chosen one’ tag, but for the neutral looking on, it was always a huge risk given his poor record when it comes to big matches and the fact he hasn’t won a major tournament. He is a decent Premier League manager, but nothing more. On the other hand, Louis van Gaal comes in with a huge reputation and a great record in a number of countries. He doesn’t do failure and expect greater things from Manchester United this season.
Last season, Manchester United fell six places to a disappointing 7th, but it would be incredible if that is repeated. They should return to challenging at the very top of the league. After all, they have a number of world class players like Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. The new manager will also be likely to sign at least one or two quality players before the end of the month, providing the squad with even more ability. This is something which David Moyes struggled to do, but the former Holland coach has the reputation to attract the world’s top stars, which the Scot didn’t have.
Their main problem last season was that they lost too many matches against sides which they should be beating if they want to be finishing near the top of the table. Their home form was a particular problem as the likes of Everton, West Brom and Newcastle all managed to win at Old Trafford for the first time in a long time. This season, their defence should be better as Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra have all left, allowing some of the younger players to start to become regulars in the first team. Plus Van Gaal’s preference for the 3-5-2 formation could allow the team to play with more freedom, it also gives him the chance to play Mata, Rooney and Van Persie all in their preferred positions.
Manchester United are a huge club and with Louis Van Gaal as manager, other clubs will start to become intimidated by them again, especially if they get off to a good start. The name and stature of the club will always be a huge strength and their attack is also one of the best, if not the best in the league now Suarez has left. If Rooney and Van Persie both have great seasons, it isn’t impossible for Manchester United to return to the top of the table, but both have had many injury problems in the past, so for both to stay fit for an entire season is a huge ask. Meanwhile Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa may get more prominent roles under Van Gaal, therefore the side will have more creativity within it.
On the other hand, last season may have had a damaging effect on the players and a poor start could see the frustration grow in Manchester. The new formation could also go one of two ways, it could have a revitalizing effect or the tactical confusion could cause huge problems in both halves of the pitch. They have looked good in pre season, beating the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid, but it’s impossible to glean too much from friendly matches. Their defence will remain an issue as they have yet to add another centre back, despite losing two this summer. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans are all massive talents, but they have all had injury problems to contend with in recent years and if they plan to play three at the back, they need more reinforcements in that area.
Louis van Gaal hasn’t done as much business in the transfer window as many had expected, but there will probably be a few more signings in the coming weeks. They have signed Luke Shaw for a fee in the region of £27m from Southampton. The England international is one of the brightest young talents in the world and will provide more youth to the left hand side. He has the potential to be a top player and first team opportunities at Old Trafford would be perfect for his growth as a player.
The most decorated club in England have also added Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao for £28.5m. The Spaniard is a classy operator, who has an impressive passing range and will add creativity from deep. Their main target for the summer appears to be Arturo Vidal, but a deal has yet to be struck for the Chilean.
A few players have left Old Trafford this summer, including three defenders who have been crucial in the last decade. Nemanja Vidic has joined Inter Milan, Patrice Evra has also gone to Italy to play for Juventus and Rio Ferdinand has returned to London to play for QPR. This has reduced the depth available to Van Gaal defensively and they will certainly need at least one new centre back if they are to have squad depth, especially if they are to play 3-5-2. Alexander Buttner, Bebe and Federico Macheda have also left the club, but none have ever been first team regulars.
Louis van Gaal comes in with a huge reputation after leading an unfancied Holland side to the semi finals of the World Cup. His side didn’t lose a game over 90 minutes, which suggests he will make Manchester United very hard to beat, which will be a good thing after the vulnerabilities they showed last season. He is likely to change the formation to a 3-5-2, which should see Mata, Van Persie and Rooney all play centrally this season. They could perform to a devastating effect once they have formed an understanding. He is believed to be the man who started the resurgence at Bayern Munich and United fans will hope he can do a similar job at Old Trafford.
Juan Mata will be crucial in his first full season as a Manchester United player. He will be relied upon to provide good service to the club’s two world class strikers and should be allowed to play consistently in his favoured position of the number ten role. Last season wasn’t great for Mata as he was phased out at Chelsea and never settled into the United first eleven, but Van Gaal should be able to get the best out of the diminutive playmaker.
He may lack pace, but his passing range is excellent and he can spot passes in the final third that very few others can. The Spaniard also chips in with his fair share of goals, which should supplement those scored by the Manchester United strike force. He has also won every trophy there is to win in the game, therefore his experience will be pivotal for the Red Devils in years to come, especially after the departures of three of their longest serving players this summer.
This season will be an improved one for Manchester United as Louis van Gaal is far more experienced than David Moyes and will know how to deal with the Manchester United squad. Plus his tactical flexibility should see him get the best out of the squad, whereas Moyes sometimes played players in unfamiliar positions. The attacking football should also return to Old Trafford after the dismal style of last season, which saw the side overdo the crosses, despite having no real quality aerially.
United fans will be hoping the fear factor returns this season, a quick start would do that. Although there will be improvements, they haven’t done enought work in the transfer market (yet) to make them title challengers, but they are favourites to claim the final Champions League spot.