In his first full season in charge at Old Trafford, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal was given an easy ride in the eyes of many. But after another summer of significant transfer activity at the club, the Red Devils boss will be acutely aware that some progress must be made this season.
The Dutchman has done some stellar work in the transfer market to try and expedite a rise up the table. Memphis Depay‘s acquisition was finalized prior to the end of the previous campaign, while Matteo Darmian will provide an adaptable, natural option at right-back, something the club was without for large parts of 2014-15.
Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin are the most significant purchases, however, with Van Gaal bolstering his midfield in spectacular fashion. The former may be a little past his best, but is a fantasy capture who will enthral the Old Trafford faithful, while the Frenchman is one of the finest emerging midfield men in European football.
With business still to be done—United seem poised to sell Angel Di Maria and bring in Pedro, at the time of writing—the Red Devils could strengthen their squad further before the window shuts. But improvements are imperative for Van Gaal, with may expecting an overdue run at the Premier League title from the 20-time champions of England.
Reasons to be Positive
At this juncture, the United squad looks much stronger than last season. A midfield trio of Ander Herrera, Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin is formidable on paper and if Depay clicks at the point of the attack alongside Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and potentially Pedro, the front half of the side assembled by Van Gaal is in excellent order.
United also look increasingly likely to keep hold of David De Gea. The Spanish goalkeeper has been subject to a flurry of transfer hyperbole throughout the summer, with Real Madrid linked to a move for his services. Despite looking a little shaky in pre-season, De Gea is a world-class operator and the Red Devils are better off with him around, for another season at least.
Reasons to be Negative
There are still areas that need addressing. The center-back options of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are not defenders befitting of a team that’s looking to challenge for the Premier League title. If Van Gaal is to replenish the squad before the end of August, a quality defender must be his priority.
Rooney will have to shoulder a lot of the attacking responsibility too. With James Wilson the only other orthodox striker in the squad, should the skipper pick up an injury or suspension, Van Gaal will find himself short of a thoroughbred goalscorer at the very highest level.
Key Player – Morgan Schneiderlin
Southampton were willing to sell key players for the right price during the summer of 2014, but Saints were reluctant to do business for their multifaceted French midfielder. So for United to bring Schneiderlin in ahead of this campaign is a major boost and he’ll add so much to the core of Van Gaal’s XI.
Schneiderlin was one of the main factors in Southampton having such a wonderful start to the previous term. He’s an elegant holding midfielder boasting a vast range of passing, but the 25-year-old’s ability to influence matches with his physicality will give United a desirable dimension in the middle of the park. £25 million is a substantial amount, but the Frenchman will prove to be worth every penny.
Prediction – 3rd
United will better their fourth place finish from last season, but it’d take an almighty effort to win the league, despite the shrewd business which has already been done. In Schweinsteiger, Van Gaal has drafted in a player who will help forge a winning mentality, but aside from the Germany skipper, those intangible attributes required to win a title remain in short supply.
Expect the Red Devils to turn in much more rounded performances in 2015-16, with squad more resemblant of Van Gaal’s mantras. This season can lay some critical groundwork for a title challenge in 2016-17, when winning the top prize will be the minimum expected of this United side.
Expert Opinion – Tom Jewitt (Fortitude Magazine)
It’s a case of mixed feelings going into the new season for Manchester United fans. On one hand, Louis Van Gaal has been proactive in balancing United’s midfield with the acquisition of born winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, as well as bringing in Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton as a long-term replacement for Michael Carrick. With the exciting prospects of Matteo Darmian and Memphis Depay, along with LVG’s backing of Luke Shaw, there’s a lot to look forward to.
Having said that, there are reasons to be worried too. With Angel Di Maria seemingly on his way out, possibly along with David De Gea, the pressure is mounting on LVG to bring in replacements of similar ability. Unfortunately, those players are hard to come by. What’s more, the amount of time wasted by Ed Woodward and Van Gaal cooing over Sergio Ramos, a player that was never going to leave Madrid, has been frustrating when the team is in desperate need of a centre-back. And then there’s the small matter of needing another striker to challenge Wayne Rooney and James Wilson.
Van Gaal is under pressure to deliver this season: whether that be with good performances or silverware. He’s spent the money; now he has to prove that he’s a winner and cement this ‘philosophy’ he keeps raving on about. In other words, scraping top four just wont cut it.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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