Manchester United has started the post-Moyes era in remarkable fashion, having not lost in any of their six pre-season friendlies as they settle relatively well into Louis Van Gaal’s unorthodox 3-5-2 system. Their last friendly fixture – against Valencia – saw Marouane Fellaini notch his first goal for the club in injury time, which is typical to the Red Devils’ way in what Van Gaal labeled as the ‘worst game’ under him. His peculiar words are as clear an indication as any that results will not be enough to shield the players from his wrath as he re-imposes the attacking and eye-catching flair that went amiss under predecessor, David Moyes. First up is Saturday’s Premier League opener against Swansea City.
Luke Shaw (Southampton, £30 million), Ander Herrera (Athletic Bilbao, £28.8 million) and Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina, Undisclosed).
Alexander Buttner (Dynamo Moscow, £4.4 million), Bebe (Benfica, £2.25 million), Patrice Evra (Juventus, £1.2 million), Jack Barmby and Louis Rowley (Leicester City on a free), Federico Macheda (Cardiff City on a free), Nemanja Vidic (Inter Milan on a free), Rio Ferdinand (Queens Park Rangers on a free) and Vanja Milinkovic (FK Vojvodina on loan).
The EPL 2013/14 season saw United finish seventh – their worst ever performance since the inception of the English Premier League back in 1992. While Moyes’ forerunner, Sir Alex Ferguson, focused on attacking soccer, as they bullied teams about, Moyes adopted a pragmatic approach as he opted to defend first before attacking. That approached yielded no fruits as Moyes and United endured a torrid season dotted by disappointment, impotency in front of goal and a diminishing self-belief.
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From the brink of the exit door to captaincy, Wayne Rooney has made a tremendous U-turn. While his work ethic and endurance has never been questioned, his goal scoring record dipped over the last two seasons. However, with five goals to his name during his pre-season exploits, the striker is already showing glimpses of regaining his potency in front of goal. Now wearing the captain’s armband, the striker will exhibit the extreme maturity, determination and hunger that evaded him last season as he steers his side on in the battle for the top four. Trust him to bang in more goals as he tries to bring his teammates into play.
In Louis Van Gaal, the club has an extraordinary personality. His blunt approach sees him possess an aura of no nonsense. As shown during pre-season friendlies widely reported by the media, the Dutchman will not shy away from criticizing his players when they go astray, as he won’t from praising them when they get it right. Furthermore, the Dutchman is also his own man, a message he expressed to the world during the World Cup 2014 when he hooked off Jasper Cillissen in favor of Tim Krul for the penalty shoot-out against Costa Rica in quarter-finals.
The only way for United is up. What remains unknown is how high they will end up come May 2015. In Van Gaal, United has a stern figure not scared of disappointing the bigwigs who fail to impress. However, with the unpredictable nature of the league, Van Gaal may be forced to sacrifice or alter his 3-5-2 formation in search of the magical three points. While winning the league will be a huge ask, a spot in Europe’s elite competition is not far-fetched.