Never have Manchester United fans wanted a season to roll around quicker than this one. After Utd’s worst season in Premier League history there has been a large amount of upturn and thought provoking staring in the mirror at the highest level. Gone is the man handpicked to replace Alex Ferguson (David Moyes in case you tried to block it from your memory) and in is Louis Van Gaal the eccentric Dutchman. Surely this season can’t be worse than the last one…can it?
I wrote this exact same piece at the start of last season and here is an extract from that post “When Man Utd won the Premier League last year, it felt like this may be the beginning of the end of an era of dominance.” I mean it’s pretty spot on, and don’t get me wrong not everything I said was correct (I thought Utd would still have a good season and though Kagawa would be great, neither of which actually happened) but it was so clear that Utd needed to improve their squad to compete last season yet they didn’t at all and ended up making a desperation signing at the last minute. Personally I thought that the Fellaini signing was clearly a panic but I didn’t think it would turn out to be as badly as it actually did. I can’t help but be confused as to why Moyes who had coached Fellaini for five years seemed totally unable to utilise him effectively, but maybe that’s just me.
Utd have lost a number of players from last season however most are either old and past it or never had it in the first place, oh and the manager, can’t forget the manager. Gone are club captain Nemanja Vidic who was still the best centre back in the team but was clearly on the down swing (I feel he could have been very effective in a back three and probably wouldn’t have left if he had known Moyes was going to be gone), Rio Ferdinand who was done, club legend Ryan Giggs retired after a very lacklustre season and Patrice Evra the vice-captain also said his goodbyes after being replaced by the younger Luke Shaw. When you look at those names and the years which they have spent at the club it is a huge loss of experience and leadership, it is also a loss of your top four captains from last season (maybe Rooney would be in that mix). It is sad to see all four of these players go because you have a number of excellent players and club legends all going at once but all four were past their best and should have been moved on. As far as the never hads who left the club; Kiko Macheda once the darling of Old Trafford moved on in quiet fashion, Alex Buttner the man who couldn’t defend for shit despite being a left back got sold for actual money and Bebe the man of mystery moved on with everyone still questioning why he was ever signed in the first place (absolute disaster), nothing to get upset about here. The last exit came from David Moyes who followed up one of the longest serving Utd managers of all time by being one of the shortest serving Utd managers of all time; it was always going to be a struggle but shouldn’t have been that bad.
Unlike last season there have been additions prior to the season starting with Ander Herrera (you know the guy Utd were meant to sign last year but didn’t because they didn’t want to pay £4 million more but then paid £4 million more a season later?) and Luke Shaw coming in before the pre-season tour. We also obviously have the addition of Louis Van Gaal as the new manager, a man who has a great resume and is well respected throughout the world, but that brings no guaranteed success.
Now onto the actual squad, I will break it down into positions (GK, RWB, CB, etc).
David De Gea is in my opinion the best goalkeeper in the league. He also has the gratitude of many fans for being one of only three players who actually improved under David Moyes. He is the perfect goalkeeper; excellent shot stopper, fantastic distribution, great athleticism and now good aerial ability. He has developed drastically since joining Utd from Atletico and it makes you salivate to think that he is only 23 and can surely only get better.
Anders Lindegaard is one of the best back-ups in the Premier League; a player who you can throw in and know that he will do a solid job, he is a classic back up. The only negative thing I can say about him is that he grumbles about not wanting to be a backup when he isn’t good enough to start.
Ben Amos and Sam Johnstone are also both there as further depth, although I imagine one if not both will be loaned out at some point this season.
Utd don’t have any problems at goalkeeper, with the best in the league and solid back-ups behind him.
Right Wing Back
I write right wing back because I am assuming that this is the formation (3-5-2) which Utd will utilise, although you never really know with Van Gaal.
Rafael was a top right back prior to last season, he had just came off his best year and looked like he was going to be a stalwart for years to come. Sadly nobody probably regressed more than Rafael under David Moyes. Rafael has become incredibly injury prone and when he does play he looks more like Fabio than Rafael. Rafael could be really effective under a 3-5-2 formation as he has questionable defensive abilities and has the energy to get up and down all game, but he’s starting from scratch under Van Gaal and will have to show why he deserves to stay at the club, another poor season may see him out the door.
Antonio Valencia doesn’t seem good enough going forward to be a winger anymore but he isn’t good enough defensively to play right back, sounds like the perfect right wing back doesn’t it? I was surprised to see him offered a new contract straight away when Van Gaal was given the job because Valencia very much seemed like he had lost a step and was no longer the effective winger he once was, but when it became clear that Utd would be playing 3-5-2 it all made sense. Valencia could have an excellent season under this new system and I fully expect him to start in front of Rafael to start the season.
With the move from right back to right wing back Utd have developed good depth as Valencia will be a natural at the position rather than the unnatural that he was at right back. Utd should be good for the season here and who knows maybe even Guillermo Varela or Marnick Vermilj will make an appearance.
Left Wing Back
Out with the old and in with the new as Luke Shaw the 19 year old sensation replaces Patrice Evra at the left wing back position. There is no doubting that Shaw has talent, he showed it last season and the season before as well, this kid is going to be a stalwart of the league for many years to come. He has energy to get up and down the wing, he has strength to not be bullied off the ball and he has a good delivery, he is already the full package at just 19 and is hence a very exciting prospect. I would however question paying £27 million for a left back regardless of how good he is because you can pick up a quality left back for about £12 million and full backs are the least important position on the pitch. Undoubtedly a good player and may in time be value for money but as things stand just now they have grossly overpaid for a player who should have cost at most £20m.
That odd situation where you list Ashley Young as the next defensive player on your list and then have to recheck that because you surely made a mistake before realising no you were right. I didn’t think Young had a chance in hell of being at Utd for the 2014-15 season but you have to stand up and applaud the man for converting himself from lacklustre winger to a solid looking wing back. For me the player of the American Tour where he was a revelation. You wonder if this was Van Gaal’s plan all along or whether he just sort of stumbled upon it accidentally and is now taking the credit for it. For the first time in years I’m excited to see Ashley Young play for Manchester United and I can’t believe I’m writing that.
Beyond these two you wonder if Reece James will be given an opportunity after playing pretty well in the American tour. I think the answer would have almost certainly been yes but after Young’s form I now have my doubts. It’s a shame for him because he finally got his break and then got injured, it’s very unlucky.
Utd seem quite set at left wing back despite losing the two players which occupied the position last season. It will be interesting to see whether Young will stand up in competitive matches.
Phil Jones looked like he was going to be Mr. Man Utd two years ago, now it doesn’t look like that at all. I think he’s a good player but has had his development damaged because of years of playing him at right back and central midfield (neither of which he is good enough to do), he needs to be played at centre back so we can finally learn if he is truly good enough. I keep waiting for him to take the step up but he never seems to be able to make it to that next level, which is concerning. My biggest criticism of his is that he is clumsy and can be reckless, two things which scream Titus Bramble rather than world class centre back. Maybe it is youth and inexperience but he better mature quickly because he will almost certainly be playing a lot this season.
Chris Smalling looked like he would partner Jones at the heart of the defence for the next ten plus years but hasn’t developed at all since his first season. It’s weird it is almost as if he completed his first season at Utd and relaxed, stopped trying as if he had already made it when clearly he hasn’t. I don’t know if he has an ego problem or if he has just been mismanaged but he needs to shape up quickly because at the moment he looks well off the pace required for this level and this is probably his last chance.
Jonny Evans has never looked like a starting calibre player in my opinion but rather a very solid back up. Evans will probably be more than that though because the two players who preceded him haven’t shown they can be relied upon whereas Evans has over a number of seasons. He is the modern day John O’Shea and that isn’t meant as a criticism.
Beyond the three established players there is a large degree of unknown for Utd with only two players really being good enough to make the step up; Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett. Personally I would have liked to have seen Keane play more last season rather than being shipped out on loan as I think the experience of playing for Utd would have been more valuable, surely this season he will be able to make the step up, especially when you consider Van Gaal’s history of bringing through young players. Blackett is a different story, I personally haven’t seen much of him outside of the American Tour but clearly Van Gaal thinks highly of him because he has received a lot of playing time in pre-season
Centre back is one of the weakest areas of Utd’s team especially when you consider they will be playing a 3-5-2. Utd have lost Rio and Vido and haven’t replaced either of them, made even worse when they switch to three. I think Utd will need at least one centre back before the start of the season (preferably two); anything else is taking a massive risk.
By far the weakest area of the team last season which wasn’t much improved last season either which leaves it at still one of the weakest areas of the team. At least this season a bright spark has been introduced in Ander Herrera, a man who can control a game with passing, something sorely missed last season. Herrera will give Utd much needed midfield control which will pay dividends against the top teams.
Michael Carrick regressed drastically last year under Moyes and it will be interesting to see if he can bounce back under Van Gaal. In theory he should flourish under the new system which will allow him to sit back and spray passes with the extra space which will be available. This should be a good season for Carrick as he is no longer the only option at central midfield and should be more rested and in theory more effective as well.
It is great to see Darren Fletcher back in a Utd shirt, if anyone deserves it, it is him. Fletcher is the perfect partner to play alongside Herrera or Carrick as he is willing to do the dirty work but also has passing ability. I think he could be a big player for Utd this season if he can stay healthy and I’m sure everyone is hoping he will, because he has been robbed of two years of his career. Personally I would have Fletcher as my captain because he is the right sort of character and he is a Utd man through and through.
Marouane Fellaini quite simply put doesn’t fit in this system. To play this system you need to have quick movement and quick passing, Fellaini possesses neither. The only way I see Fellaini sticking around is if he is solely utilised as a super sub because of his gangliness. I’m surprised he hasn’t moved on yet, I think it’s only a matter of time.
Tom Cleverley doesn’t look like a Manchester United player. Not sure I really need to say anymore. I expect him to stay because he fills a squad role and there aren’t any young players who play central midfield waiting in the wings. He has lost any confidence he had and was one of the biggest regressers under Moyes (quite an achievement). He’s used up 11 of his lives and he only had 9 in the first place, surely only a matter of time.
Yeah Anderson also still plays at the club amazingly…
Central midfield is still an area of weaknesses but the club is in a better spot that they were at this time last year which is something. I expect Fellaini to go and in a perfect world you would see a holding midfielder come in which would just solidify the midfield and bring it up to standard.
I can only imagine that when the wingers heard that Van Gaal intended on playing a 3-5-2 they were absolutely gutted because there is no place for them in the team unless they can be converted to wing backs (as Young and Valencia have). It sort of makes these players deadwood and I wouldn’t be shocked if most of them weren’t at the club for next season.
Nani still plays for Utd for some reason and one of the worst things Moyes did was ok a five year contract for him…ugh…surely this summer is his last.
Wilfried Zaha looked like he could be the next big thing in English football just over a year ago, now he looks like a nobody who is on his way out of Utd. It’s weird his regression has been incredibly drastic, very worryingly so to the extent where he couldn’t even get into a Cardiff team which got relegated. Zaha obviously has attitude problems and that isn’t helped by the fact he doesn’t fit into the system; not being good enough to play up front or at wing back. I don’t think he will be sold but he almost certainly won’t be at the club next year.
Zaha and Nani are the only two out and out wingers who can’t be reassigned, so I think we will see both of them leave unsurprisingly.
I fully expect Juan Mata to have an outstanding season this year. He was never going to come in to a new club, after having not played regularly at his old one, and instantly play to his top form. Despite that he still did pretty well in his time at Utd, especially towards the end of the season where his chemistry with Rooney and Kagawa began to flourish. Expect this to continue as he will finally be able to play his best position just behind the strikers in the 3-5-2, could be very exciting.
I thought that last season was going to be the year of Shinji Kagawa but once again he couldn’t get into the team (despite the lack of quality actually playing) and when he did he was played as a left winger, something which is an atrocity. Although he will play back up to Mata this is lining up to be Kagawa’s best season as he will finally be able to play in his favoured position. Kagawa is another one of those players who is on his last chance, hopefully he takes it and shows everyone the player that we all know he can be.
Adnan Januzaj was the one thing people will remember David Moyes for fondly. Yes you could rightly argue that Januzaj almost certainly would have come through on his own and you’d be right but it was Moyes who reluctantly picked him and allowed Januzaj to take off. The sad thing about Januzaj was that he at one point in the season (around January) was the player everyone was relying on to win games or do something special, a guy who was 18 and had barely played double figures games, says everything about the Moyes era. Januzaj will play more off the strikers this year with the removal of wingers and it will be interesting to see how he develops. Januzaj is one of (if not the) brightest young players in world football and that in itself is incredibly exciting for the club.
That is three players all fighting for one position essentially and when you look at the young players coming through Jesse Lingard, Tom Lawrence and Nick Powell there is a lot of talent at the club in this area. Of the three surely Lingard (who I thought should’ve been given a chance last year) will be given a chance this season, he has shown on two consecutive tours that he can play and has done really well on loan to Championship clubs, he deserves the step up and hopefully he gets it. I imagine the other two will probably go out on loan rather than sitting in the reserves.
Utd are more than set at attacking midfield with quality at the top, bottom and middle. It is definitely the strongest are of the squad.
Wayne Rooney, your new Manchester United captain…I never thought I would be writing that after Van Gaal was hired because I was certain that RVP would be the new captain and that Rooney’s time at the club was once again looking short. How much can change in a good pre-season tour. I have to give it to Rooney, I have been fast to criticise him in the past for being a diva but he has obviously thrown himself into the new Van Gaal regime and that has paid dividends for him with quality performances in the American tour and the captaincy. Rooney actually looks fit this year and will be playing as an out and out striker; it could be a very special season for him.
Robin Van Persie had a season to forget last year and it is hard to ignore his childishness. Obviously this is speculation but it felt like he was deliberately sitting out with injuries because he didn’t like playing for David Moyes, maybe that’s wrong but that’s how it felt. There shouldn’t be any problem with RVP this season as him and Van Gaal are bros (yes bros). I think we can expect RVP to be back to his very best, assuming he can stay fit, as he wouldn’t give anything less for Van Gaal. Potentially two strikers on top form is an incredibly exciting situation for Utd and it is where they find themselves.
Danny Welbeck is an incredibly frustrating player; there is no doubt that he has something but he seems to be unable to do the simple things well. He also has looked good in pre-season (which of course should be taken with a pinch of salt) and looks like he enjoys playing under Van Gaal and in the new system. I keep waiting for Welbeck to take the next step, maybe this is the year he does it.
Javier Hernandez is for some reason the unluckiest man at the club. After a great first season the club signed RVP shoving him down the pecking order and that was followed by a manager who clearly didn’t like him in David Moyes. He has never really done anything wrong but has found himself on the outside looking in. With the move to two strikers you would be forgiven for thinking that finally Chicharito will get a fair chance rather than limited sub appearances but it seems that Van Gaal is more than willing to sell him and his time looks limited. I like Hernandez, he has pace, is tricky and is a classic poacher but my biggest criticism is that he doesn’t have a great touch and his distribution is poor. To be honest he isn’t good enough to start regularly for Utd and never will be but he is a great alternative or sub.
Beyond the top four strikers there is Will Keane and James Wilson on the fringes. Wilson looks like he could be a top player and is still only 18, it would be great to see him make an impact on the squad this season and if Hernandez goes he may get that chance. I don’t think Keane is good enough to make it at Utd, I hope I’m wrong because he’s a local lad and has been at the club for a long time so it would be nice to see him come through but I have my doubts.
Utd are set at striker assuming Hernandez stays, if he goes obviously they will need to sign a replacement of some kind because I don’t believe that Keane or Wilson are quite ready for that big step up to playing consistently.
This is pretty much the Utd team which won the Premier League and it is still a good squad, they just woefully underperformed last season. The youth revolution has already started in a manner with a number of the old players who made Utd seem slow last season already gone. Utd are all set at goalkeeper, wing back, attacking midfield and (assuming current squad) up front. There is still major concerns in the centre of midfield and at centre back which will need to be addressed in the transfer window before the start of the season.
If the players who are rumoured to go do actually go most won’t be a loss, with Hernandez and maybe Kagawa being the only exceptions, although can you really rely on what the newspapers say? The answer is no they talk a lot of shit most of the time.
As far as potential signings go I think Utd definitely need at least one centre back; ideally Utd would sign Mats Hummels but it is unclear whether or not he is actually available, Marcos Rojo would be a great and more realistic alternative. In a perfect world you would see both players sign and solidify the defence. In central midfield you can’t not get excited by the prospect of Arturo Vidal possibly signing because he is a top quality player. Obviously there are many sticking points (his injuries and the transfer fee) and it feels like he has been signing for about the last month which makes me think that it probably won’t happen. The alternative seems to be Daley Blind who was a big part of the Dutch World Cup team and won the player of the year in the Eredivise last season; he is a good player and would come for a fraction of the price you would pay for Vidal (Barca also want him but you would hope that the Van Gaal factor would pull through).
I expect Utd’s current squad to line up like this:
I am hoping that Van Gaal continues his tradition of promoting a bunch of youth players because I think that there is a lot of potential in the Utd youth ranks currently and all they need is to be given a chance to show what they can do. It is the manner in which you receive long term and sustained success and it is how Utd have done it in the past, so hopefully that will be a large part of the ethos of Van Gaal.
Overall I am quietly excited about the upcoming season for Utd. Utd have a better manager and have added good players whilst also getting rid of some of the deadweight. I think that they are two players short of putting in a realistic challenge for the league title but as things currently stand I think Utd will finish 3rd. If Utd want to win the league a holding midfielder and two centre backs are needed, after last season it seems odd but it wouldn’t be farfetched if Utd actually won the league, especially if they continue to add.
Leave a comment about what you think about the current Utd squad, what you think of the potential transfer targets or how well you think Utd will do this season. Don’t forget that you can find all the latest bm23 sports reviews updates by checking out Facebook and Twitter and don’t forget to share with all your pals!