It has been three years since Alex Ferguson stepped down as Manchester United manager, and it has been three years of frustrating football for Utd fans. After achieving the minimum requirements expected last season, Van Gaal went into this season with heightened expectations; ultimately he and the team came up short.
I may as well start off with the news that the FA Cup final was indeed Van Gaal’s last game and it will soon be announced that Jose Mourinho will take over in the weeks to come. This season I expected Utd to make a title challenge but ultimately come up short and to make a decent challenge for a cup, they did one of these two things, sadly it was the one which was the less important for the club overall.
I feel sorry for Van Gaal because I think that the way his sacking has been handled is incredibly cumbersome. About half an hour after winning the FA Cup the team releases the story that he’s being replaced in the coming weeks… Everyone knew it was probably going to happen, however to not even wait to do it the next day seems wrong to me, let the man have his night.
What seemed even odder to me is that they seemed to inform the media before actually informing all the players, it is thoroughly reminiscent of how Ed Woodward handled the letting go of Rio Ferdinand and some of the other long tenured players, heavy handed and not becoming of a club the size and reputation of Utd. What concerns me further is that it seems he hasn’t learned that the way he is conducting business is not the way business should be conducted at Utd. Yeah the guy can sign a good sponsorship deal, but he seems totally clueless when it comes to the footballing side of things, and unless this is fixed in the near future then I struggle to see Utd rising to the very top of European football any time soon.
Ultimately Van Gaal deserved to be sacked, just finishing top four wasn’t good enough this season, and he didn’t even manage to do that. You can measure Van Gaal’s season based on three things; title challenge, Europe and the FA Cup, he totally failed at two and did well in the other. The problem being that the one he did actually do well in was by far the least important of the three.
Utd didn’t really deserve to finish top four, however when you need to win your last two games of the season and you definitely get in, and then you don’t do that…well…you lose your job. The weird thing about the season was that Utd were doing ok in the first few months, even topping the table for a week, but around December the title challenge totally collapsed and it never really recovered from there.
I wasn’t of the opinion that sacking Van Gaal around Christmas was the right decision, because in my opinion there is no point in sacking your manager unless you can replace him with someone better. So ask yourself, who would have replaced Van Gaal if he had been sacked mid-season? Mourinho said he didn’t want to take over mid-season, so who else was there? Giggs? Personally I’d rather have a manager, who has experience and is struggling, than one who has shown nothing to suggest that he could manage at the top level.
Speaking of Giggs, if he wants to manage for Utd one day then he needs to prove that he has the ability to do so. But Guardiola’s first job was Barcelona! Zidane has taken Real to the Champions League final! Both are true, however both men also managed the reserve teams, Giggs has managed nothing. No man should have a god given right to manage Manchester United. If we gave the job to great players, then Bobby Charlton should have got a punt at it back in the seventies. If Giggs does desire the job then he needs to go show that he can manage at another club, and if he proves that he has something then he will have a better chance than most at getting the job. Until then he shouldn’t be anywhere near the reckoning.
Utd’s European campaign was pretty disastrous, out in the group stages of the Champions League, in what was a fairly easy group and then knocked out by Liverpool in the Europa League, also ending in the almost terrible situation where both City and Liverpool sneak into the Champions League in front of us. Yes it was funny seeing Liverpool lose convincingly to Sevilla, especially after the incredibly biased and condescending punditry which happened pre-match and at half time. Sad that one of the things which make a Utd’s fans season is how shit Liverpool are.
Back to Van Gaal, I think that most Utd fans will be hoping that the quality of football played will increase under Mourinho, because Van Gaal played such a boring and safe style which sucked all sorts of creativity firmly out of the players. It says something when you look at some of the stats (like goals, chances created, etc.) and you see that we’re at the lowest or almost the lowest in twenty odd years, that simply put isn’t good enough.
The other thing which flat out wasn’t good enough this season was the team’s ability to string wins together. On only one occasion did Utd have a run of three wins in a row in the Premier League, only once! That’s fucking ridiculous! If you are wondering why Utd didn’t do better in the league, it’s because the team was wildly inconsistent. A stat which is just as bad is that Utd didn’t win consecutive away games all season, barely finishing in the top ten for away form (9th).
Utd missed out on top four by goal difference, pretty cruel, however when you see that Utd only scored 49 goals in 38 games (only 22 away from home) you can’t really complain. Utd finished the season with a +14 goal difference (-4 away from home), in comparison the lowest goal difference in the top four was Arsenal with +29, they weren’t even close. Ten teams outscored Utd in the league this season and they never scored more than three goals in a game, it really isn’t hard to see why Utd failed to secure top four with stats like this and that is down to Van Gaal’s style of play.
Van Gaal also had this terrible tendency to play players out of position, to the extent that on more than one occasion he had a right winger, a left winger, an attacking midfielder and a striker on the pitch at the same time, yet none of them were playing in their natural position, it didn’t make much sense. If Utd hadn’t won the FA Cup, Van Gaal would rightly have been slaughtered for playing Ashley Young up front and Martial on the left wing, when they naturally play in each other’s positions, he got away with it and eventually made the switch in extra time, however the mind really does boggle at what he was thinking. His subs were also generally terrible, didn’t make enough proactive decisions, subbed on the wrong players and often reacted to situations way too late, the West Ham game being a perfect example of this.
Was Van Gaal better than Moyes? Yes, and by quite a bit. I think it’s harsh to criticise Moyes because he didn’t get the backing which Van Gaal received from the board, however the big difference between the two was that with Van Gaal you went into the big games fancying your chances, with Moyes you felt you would lose and generally did. In the end what let Van Gaal down was that he couldn’t handle the smaller teams who were disinterested in having the ball but put up a real fight. That’s the big difference between Germany, Spain and England, the shit teams in England don’t just lie down.
Every team can look at their points dropped at the end of the season, add them up and show how they should have actually won the league, and it’s a lot of meaningless shit. Having said that…Utd lost to Norwich (at home), Sunderland, Bournemouth, West Brom and Swansea, whilst also drawing with Palace and Newcastle (twice), that’s twenty one points discarded against teams Utd should really be beating, it was Van Gaal’s Achilles heel.
I think that people will look back on Van Gaal’s time at Utd more fondly in the future, he brought back a swagger to the club, he was a character, he has laid foundations for the future with the number of young players brought through and probably most importantly he won the first post-Fergie trophy, something which will be under rated, however the longer it went without the win the bigger an issue it begins to become, so it is good for the club to nip it in the bud now.
So Mourinho is now going to come in to replace the manager who has an edgy personality and doesn’t play attractive football, sounds familiar. The unusual thing is that a lot of people seem to think that Mourinho will change his more defensive ways and start blooding youngsters, despite not really being known for doing either. I understand going for Mourinho because the team is in a lull and he is a proven winner, however I don’t think he fits the Utd way and can’t help but think that someone like a Ronald Koeman would have been a better choice in my opinion. I would gladly be proved wrong and hope that he has great success with the club, however I imagine that we will be here again in three years looking for a new manager and the team will be in disarray.
De Gea is the best keeper in the league, he’s had another great year and I’m just glad he is still at the club. If Utd can hang on to De Gea for the years to come then it will be a massive coup after last summer’s antics from Real Madrid. Apparently he has a £40 million release clause in his contract which must be activated this summer by Madrid if they want him, thankfully for Utd Navas has had a great year so there is a solid chance that they won’t bother.
Romero had a solid year, he didn’t have to play too often but when he did he generally did what was expected of him. Nowhere near good enough to be starting for Utd, however he is a top back up and is happy to be so as well, which as always important.
I have to say that I was pretty disappointed with Darmian’s contribution this year; I expected a lot more from him. He is clearly a good player and a top defender, however he struggled to adapt to the league’s physicality and his end product leaves a lot to be desired. It never seemed like he got a really good consistent run in the team and was often pushed out of position. I do think that Darmian will kick on next season and will be very effective in a Mourinho system.
Valencia missed a lot of the season injured, however when he finally came back he was fantastic. My man of the match in the FA Cup final and Utd’s best player over the last number of games, with his piercing runs and much improved crossing. It’s like watching Valencia circa 2010 when he was on top of his game, except he’s now a capable full back. I still have doubts over his defensive abilities; however he’s more than good enough to be in the squad if not starting.
Varela did well filling in for a few games and it’s nice that he got given a chance, however I can’t see him having a future at the club, the same can be said for the awesomely named Donald Love.
Luke Shaw’s season ending injury had the biggest impact of any player this season. His rampaging runs down the left were never replicated once he broke his leg, gone were the overlaps which Memphis was so reliant on and gone was Memphis’ form for the season. The issue being that Utd didn’t actually have a proper back up for Shaw, so he was replaced by a mix of Young, Rojo, Darmian, Fosu Mensah and Borthwick-Jackson. Full back is one of the positions in football which is often overlooked, however in a possession based system a good attacking full back is a must, and when Shaw went down it hurt the team mightily.
Borthwick-Jackson was one of many youth revelations this season. Thrust into action after every other left back went down and the youngster more than rose to the occasion. 14 games for the season is a good return and going forward he is a perfect back up to Shaw. His delivery is dynamite and he runs funny, I like him!
Chris Smalling had a really good year and continued on his path to redemption but I’m still not sure he’s the answer going forward. A few things still bother me about Smalling; he’s very grabby and is getting a reputation for being so, he is still prone to stupid mistakes (cheap own goals) and I’m not sure he’s the brightest. It’s harsh because he has had a really good year (had him in my team of the season), however I think that Utd should really be looking for better quality at the position.
If you had told me that Daley Blind would have been a stalwart in the centre of defence for the entire season, then I would be concerned, however Blind did pretty well. Blind has exceptional passing for a centre back, reads the game really well and is good at coming out with the ball, the problem is that he is weak, poor in the air and when up against a big striker can easily be dominated. Long term he isn’t a centre back, he’s useful because he can play so many positions and I’d definitely keep him around, but if he’s our starting centre back next year then I’d be concerned.
Another year another Phil Jones injury hit season. There is no doubting that Jones has something, however if he can’t stay on the pitch then what good is it keeping him at the club? He deserves another year because he is only 24 but how many more times can you keep saying next year? In five years Jones has only played over forty matches once (in his first year), this season was a new low with only 13 matches played. It’s the same issue which City have with Kompany, you know he’s good enough if fit, however he’s never fit.
Rojo barely played at centre back all season (mainly left back) and he did ok but I can’t help but think that he isn’t good enough to play for Man Utd. He isn’t terrible and he’s a solid enough squad player, however he is also a total liability. His concentration leaves a lot to be desired at times and he gives away really stupid fouls, not an intelligent footballer.
McNair had a really poor year after last season being so promising. He was inconsistent last season but showed glimpses, this season he didn’t really show anything and looked totally lost. A real regression and at 21 he needs a big year next season if he’s to have any future.
Fosu-Mensah is like a Dutch army knife and a beautiful Dutch army knife at that. He looks like a real player, only 18 and he’s already incredibly developed physically and has ability on the ball. Next year could be huge for him and hopefully for the club he can break through, his versatility will help him get game time, and if he keeps his eye on the prize then he will develop into a great player.
A new starting centre back is a must, I’d also get rid of Rojo and sign a new backup as his replacement. It’s easier said than done, and the club shouldn’t force it if the right player isn’t there.
It’s probably Michael Carrick’s last season at Man Utd and I think it’s probably for the best, he’s not had the best of seasons. Carrick has struggled to stay fit this season (a problem he’s had for a few years) and often times he looked like playing beyond sixty minutes was a step too far. He is getting up in age (34) and Utd could really do with getting younger at the position. Carrick gets to go out on top with the FA Cup win and I think it’s a fitting way for a guy who’s been at the club so long, finally completing his trophy cabinet. I have seen reports about teams like Arsenal being interested in Carrick and I have to say I find it odd, if he isn’t good enough for Utd then why would he be good enough for Arsenal? I don’t think he controls the game like he used to and physically he is shot, Carrick could be a great player for an Everton but at this level he is done.
Schweinsteiger will go down as one of the biggest disappointments of the season, he looked like an absolute steal at £7 million, however he really hasn’t lived up to the player that he can be. He never looked fit and even when he played he didn’t have the impact which I would have expected. My biggest concern for Schweinsteiger is that maybe this is as good as it gets for him, maybe this is the reason that Bayern were ok selling him. Potentially you have a world class midfielder in the squad, a great leader in a team which lack it, a man who can dictate play, alternatively you have an injury prone player who can’t run anymore.
Schneiderlin was another big summer signing and sadly he was another let down. He’s the exact sort of player that Utd needed, he had three years of previous experience in the league, yet it was a struggle. So often Schneiderlin looked lost, went to sleep and the extra requirement to go forward and dictate play (something he didn’t need to worry about at Southampton) seemed too much for him. I still think he’ll come good, it isn’t uncommon that a player moves to a bigger club and struggles in their first year, the exact same thing happened to Shaw in his first year and before the leg break he looked like he had really kicked on, I expect the same from Schneiderlin.
I thought Herrera would have been more of a stalwart of the team by this stage, for whatever reason it doesn’t appear that Van Gaal was a fan. It’s so difficult to measure a player who is played out of position for most of the season and then barely starts, because he’s not playing in his natural role (box to box) and is never fully match fit. Herrera did ok, however for the money which was paid he should be doing better than ok. He only made 17 starts in the league (10 sub appearances), it’s just not enough. Hopefully Mourinho will see Herrera’s value, otherwise I can’t see him being at the club beyond next season, which is a shame because he has such a great heart and potentially good be a great player if given a chance.
Fellaini or Mr. FA Cup as he should be known had a very Fellaini season, some really good stuff, some really terrible stuff and a lot of elbows. Incredibly Fellaini only played 18 games (12 starts) in the Premier League, it felt like a hell of a lot more. I don’t think Fellaini’s a bad player, I think if used correctly he will be really effective, however Utd have never actually used him correctly. I think to be used as a sub to change the game and give defenders something to think about he could be very effective, but when he starts he slows the play down because he isn’t a good enough passer and the team tends to play hoof ball to Fellaini which distracts from any other attacking attempts. I like Fellaini the person and he really tries, he sadly isn’t really good enough for this level.
It’s an area of real weakness in the squad and that can be seen by the inconsistency of the line up from match to match. When you look at each player’s appearance figures you would swear that they were rotation squad players, yet not one has appearance figures of a starter. Van Gaal should probably have played more three midfield formations, however fitness and his general inconsistency of selection meant that it didn’t happen enough. Utd need more depth and desperately need a central midfielder who can lead and dictate play, Schweinsteiger of five years ago would be perfect.
Mata had another ok but not great year. Like so many other players in the team I don’t know if you can really criticise him too much because he was played out of position for most of the season, however he played 52 times (10 goals 8 assists), yet never really kicked on from being ok. With Mourinho coming in it’s hard to think that Mata’s days at Utd aren’t numbered, which again is a shame because he tries and clearly gets what it is to be a Utd player but hasn’t ever really been able to truly click with the team.
There’s nothing I love more than seeing a youth product, a local lad, a Utd fan step up big time and win a big tournament for the club, and Jesse Lingard did just that. I couldn’t describe my happiness when Lingard started to get given opportunities, I had been waiting to see him breakthrough for a number of years. Lingard has great energy, effort, is good defensively, makes great runs in behind and has pace to burn, sadly his end product leaves a lot to be desired. If Lingard improves his crossing and finishing, as well as putting on some muscle, he could become a really good player, otherwise he’s at best a squad player.
In a season of disappointing signings, none quite reached the level of Memphis Depay. I would never judge a player after their first season in a new league with a new team, they need time to adjust, however Memphis has had a pretty shocking year. The fact he didn’t even make the FA Cup final squad is a sad signal about his time so far at Utd, possibly the sadder thing is that he didn’t really deserve his place in the team. Memphis has a lot of maturing to do if he is to kick on and make something of himself at the club, he’s definitely got the ability, but he needs to work on the mental side of the game and really knuckle down to improve. He’s only 22, he could and probably still will come good, however his confidence has taken a major knock this year, and at the end he was the third choice left winger, which possibly says something about his attitude. Really needs to improve.
Poor Ashley Young played in defence more than he played on the wing this season, he also got some time up front as Van Gaal used him as a utility man. He missed a lot of the season through injury and did as well as you can when you’re a left winger playing at right back. He’ll be 31 in the summer, I’m not sure how long he will have left at Utd, a useful squad player though.
In a season full of disappointments, Adnan Januzaj was another massive one. He played a few games at the start of the season and was doing ok, only to then be oddly loaned out to Borussia Dortmund (a team with much better attackers than Utd), he then proceeded to do nothing at Dortmund and return early from his loan spell. Januzaj was so good under Moyes that I wouldn’t have believed you had you told me that in two years’ time he would be nowhere near the first team, yet here we are. He has bundles of ability but really needs to mature, put on muscle and work hard on his game. He’s 21, so is still young enough to be given a number of more chances, however I don’t think under Mourinho he’ll be able to break into the team. He needs to go on loan to either a low end Premier League team or a top Championship team, where he can play first team and gain some much needed humility. I still have hope but it is severely dwindling.
Andreas Pereira managed to get 11 first team appearances this season, which isn’t actually too bad, until you realise that most of his playing time was in meaningless games or in garbage time. Similarly to Januzaj, Pereira has bundles of ability, however needs to mature a lot and knuckle down. I saw that he asked Van Gaal if he could go on loan during January for first team experience, only for Van Gaal to say he needed him for the first team. Pereira played 55 minutes of first team football since January, that’s pretty sad, disappointing of Van Gaal to hamper his development like that when he has shown the initiative to try and improve, hopefully he gets a chance to prove himself next season.
Nick Powell…one of the weirdest subs you’ll ever see in a must win Champions League game you throw on a player who has shown very little since he’s been at the club, then to loan him out to Hull where he can’t even get a game. He’ll deservedly not be at the club next season, one of the biggest examples of wasted talent you’ll ever see.
Utd need a special player who can cause opposition defences problems, currently the don’t have that. A right winger is a must and a number ten would be nice too, this is easily one of the biggest areas of weakness in the squad.
Rooney had probably his worst season as a Utd player this year, yet has somehow come out of the year receiving plaudits. This was Rooney’s worst goal to game ratio in his twelve years at the club (beating last year’s low tally) and was his worst ever Premier League goal tally at Utd (you have to go back to his first year at Everton to find a lower number). His league form before the turn of the year can only be described as terrible, he looked out of shape and totally unsharp, yet was undroppable. He picked it up at the turn of the year, finally showing why the manager had shown faith in him, before picking up an injury which kept him out for a couple of months. When he came back he pretty much played in midfield and did ok, causing journalists everywhere to decry that Rooney is the greatest central midfielder ever, a Scholes incarnate! The issue being that he isn’t good enough on the ball to play in central midfield for Utd. Yes he has the drive (although not shown enough in my opinion), his leadership in the middle is great (a real loss when he was injured) and he is excellent at the cross field long ball, the problem is that his general passing isn’t to the standard required for that role. Picking the ball up deep and hitting a laser pass out to the right/left wing is great, however when you’ve done it ten times in the game and it’s basically all you do when you get the ball, well it’s pretty easy to guess what’s coming. Rooney showed he doesn’t have the legs or pace to play up front anymore, there are many better players at the number ten role available (not necessarily at Utd), so he’s been forced into transforming himself into a central midfielder. If Utd go forward with Rooney in that role as a mainstay of the team next season then I’ll be concerned, let’s hope he actually shows up in shape next year.
Martial had a really good year and was the only attacking player who consistently showed up and had that little bit of magic. His 17 goals were the best in the team and he was the only player to get into double figures in the Premier League (11) which is pretty pathetic for the rest of the squad. He played most of the year on the left wing and did really well, however it does cause a dilemma because both he and Memphis play the same position, so one will have to be transitioned to another role. It surely makes sense that Martial will move into the middle in the long term, assuming of course that Memphis is able to kick on from his poor year. Martial showed a lot of promise this year and is likely a start for the future; great pace, dribbling, finishing and really composed, however I’d like to see him do more when he’s being tight marked and I’d like to see him start to make more runs in behind (generally prefers to get ball to feet and run at the defenders). One of the major bright sparks of this season and a player that will give every Utd hope for the future.
Marcus Rashford…the guy who should have been nowhere near the first team, yet somehow ended up playing in all but one of the last nineteen matches, scoring 8 goals in the process, not too shabby for an 18 year old. His first touch sometimes lets him down, however you have to think that he will only develop physically, if he works hard his control will improve and he is already a damn good finisher. It will be really interesting to see how Rashford does next season, this year there was no expectation or pressure, next year will be the opposite. If he reacts well to the situation, then you know that you have a star of the future in your midst, if he reacts poorly then it may be another Januzaj.
The other strikers who got games this season were Will Keane (who clearly isn’t good enough) and James Wilson. Wilson is a weird one because there were really high hopes for him, to the extent that Van Gaal thought more highly of him than Welbeck last season, yet this year he couldn’t get a sniff of the team despite there being much less competition and was then shuffled out on loan to Brighton. Hard to not wonder where his future lies, he is still young but questions are beginning to be asked what happened.
I felt that this was the biggest are of weakness going into the season and I didn’t really feel that Utd addressed it whatsoever in the transfer window. Yes Martial was signed but he was a total anomaly and in a regular Utd season he would have been a squad player who would have been given time to embed into the team before breaking through the next season (same can be said about Memphis), He was then played almost exclusively on the left wing meaning that our only strikers were Rooney and Wilson, who was sent out on loan in January, leaving us with only two recognised strikers, both of whom were starters. Van Gaal totally fell into Rashford and ran with it, which is fair enough, it’s one thing to give him some game time, it’s another to have enough faith in him that he is a mainstay of the team. It all leads to the question of why was Hernandez let go? A known goal scorer who surely would have been ok with being the number two striker, who would have played the entire second half of the season based on what actually happened and would probably have done very well (after all he never really received a good run of games for Utd). It is one of the many unusual things which has happened recently at Old Trafford. A new striker is a must in the summer transfer window.
At the start of the season I felt that Utd had arguably the best squad (not first eleven) in the league, however it’s pretty hard to make that argument right now. For the third year since Fergie left the squad woefully underperformed and seemed to be lacking chemistry, which is a concern after a season or two together.
I would let Rojo, Carrick, Januzaj (loan), Pereira (loan), Fellaini, Varela, McNair (loan) and Keane all go this summer and if I were to guess I’d imagine Mata will probably be on his way out too. That means that a centre back, right winger, central midfielder and striker are a must, and in a perfect world you would add another centre back, central midfielder and attacking midfielder as well. It would be a lot of turnaround for the third year in a row, which isn’t great for the squad, however there feels like there’s a lot of guys who aren’t up to par who probably shouldn’t be here anymore, and there’s also a number who should be on their last legs (Jones, Herrera, Young).
The aim for next season should be a title challenge, especially when you have a manager of Mourinho’s calibre coming in. I wouldn’t expect Utd to win it and the league will be difficult next season (Spurs a year older, City with Guardiola, Chelsea with Conte, Liverpool with Klopp), but I don’t think that anyone realistically expect the team to win the league…well not unless they go out and sign Messi and Ronaldo or something to that order.
I probably should have split this up into a squad analysis and a post about Van Gaal, because it has ended up at almost six thousand words, which is probably a few too many. Anyway if you made it this far and you enjoyed the post then it would be great if you could leave a comment about what you thought of the season and how you think Utd will do going forward with Mourinho in charge.