Without doubt, one of the most intriguing aspects of the new Premier League season, which starts on 16th August 2014, is whether Manchester United can regain their foothold at the top of the Premier League following the disastrous campaign last season.
David Moyes’ tenure was ended in April and Ryan Giggs took over the helm for the last few games of the season, but a 7th place finish and no Champions League football at Old Trafford is certainly not good enough for a team that have become accustomed to league title success.
Now Louis van Gaal, the Dutchman who guided Holland to the World Cup Semi Finals and who has enjoyed great success at Ajax, Barcelona and Bayern Munich, has been charged with taking United back to the top.
Can he do it? Let’s take a look at the situation he inherits at Old Trafford.
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- David De Gea
- Anders Lindegaard
- Ben Amos
- Sam Johnstone
- Phil Jones
- Jonny Evans
- Chris Smalling
- Guillermo Varela
- Marnick Vermijl
- Michael Keane
- Luke Shaw
- Juan Mata
- Michael Carrick
- Ashley Young
- Tom Cleverley
- Darren Fletcher
- Antonio Valencia
- Shinji Kagawa
- Marouane Fellaini
- Nick Powell
- Jesse Lingard
- Adnan Januzaj
- Ander Herrera
- Wayne Rooney
- Robin Van Persie
- Danny Welbeck
- Javier Hernandez
- Angelo Henriquez
- Wilfred Zaha
- Tom Lawrence
- James Wilson
- Will Keane
It is clear that United have strength in midfield and attack but on paper at least, their defensive options look very small. It will be interesting to see how van Gaal approaches this. In the past he has not been afraid to bring through young players, nor ask older players to convert to a more defensive role.
There are several players at the club who may not be there for much longer. Nani, Nick Powell, Anderson, Javier Hernandez and Wilfried Zaha have all been linked with moves away from the club which would mean United would need to strengthen in some other positions if players are sold.
It is fair to say that despite the debt loaded onto the club by the Glazer takeover, United are still in robust financial shape. A brand new kit deal with Adidas is worth £750 million over ten years which means the impact of no Champions League football this season has been somewhat negated.
United’s board have also been at pains to stress that money is available for Louis van Gaal to smash the world transfer record of he so desires. Which while reassuring fans, will likely have clubs adding a few extra million on the sale price of any player United are interested in.
United will be fine for cash this season, but it is imperative that Champions League football returns to Old Trafford sooner rather than later as without that rich source of cash, United’s finances will take a steep dive in forthcoming years.
The 18-year-old went to the World Cup as back up to Leighton Baines in place of Ashley Cole and is certainly the likely England left back of choice for the next 10-12 years.
A £27m signing from Southampton, Shaw is quick, strong defensively but exceptional when going forward at pace and has an uncanny ability to strike the ball cleanly from the left. An excellent signing for the long-term and a more than capable replacement for the now-departed Patrice Evra.
United first wanted Herrera last season but a deal was cancelled at the last minute. This summer, Herrera bought out his contract at Bilbao and officially became a Manchester United player.
Given United’s rich midfield talent, it will be interesting to see where Herrera fits into van Gaal’s scheme.
How have things gone so far?
Since van Gaal took the helm, United have been mainly based in the United States where they have thrashed LA Galaxy and then defeated AS Roma 3-2. So far, van Gaal has adopted a flexible 3-5-2 variation on his preferred 3-1-3-3 system with positive results. T
he Roma game however did provide food for thought as for long periods, United were second best, albeit with a largely experimental team, especially in defence. That they were 3-0 up at half time was no way indicative of any level of dominance.
That said, two wins against strong opposition and United fans will be delighted to see van Gaal’s team at least starting to take shape.
What do the club need?
United have been strongly linked with moves for several top players, notably Arturo Vidal of Juventus, but so far no other deals have materialised.
It is in defence where United look weakest and unless van Gaal has a tactical masterstroke up his sleeve, or believes he can place his faith in a crop of untried youngsters, it seems likely the club need at least one, if not two top quality defenders if they are to realistically challenge in the Premier League next season.
Daley Blind, son of van Gaal’s assistant for Holland Danny, could be one option. Blind has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona, but van Gaal could exert some influence to persuade the Ajax man to Old Trafford.
What are United’s prospects and the best bets for the 2014/2015 season?
The arrival of van Gaal was welcomed by almost all United fans and the Dutchman has a fine track record, but by no means is it blemish free. He has endured tough times at almost all his clubs and while he has the experience of managing a top side, he has never taken over a club so out of sorts as United were last season.
You can get 9/2 on United winning the Premier League, but that looks an optimistic bet to say the least, especially given how Chelsea and Arsenal have improved their squad and the strength of teams like Manchester City. A top four finish is a 1/2 bet and that may be a more enticing option.
A better bet may be to back Robin Van Persie (5/1) or Wayne Rooney (10/1) as the Premier League’s top scorer next season. Both players won’t have the distraction of Champions League games and as such, should be fresher for the Premier League campaign.
While I can’t see United winning the league I think van Gaal will recognise the importance of winning a trophy this season. In a recent interview on MUTV he said that he wants to win ‘everything’ as manager of United. As such, and without European football to concern them, I expect United to field stronger than usual sides in the Capital One and FA Cup this season.
United are 13/2 to win the FA Cup, but I think the 7/1 available on them winning the Capital One Cup looks the best ante post bet you can find for the Red Devils this season.
Photo by Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo / CC-BY-SA-3.0-nl