These past two seasons have been full of transition for Manchester United. Ever since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, United have struggled to truly find their feet under new leadership.
Despite that, Louis van Gaal – the Red Devils’ second post Fergie manager – has clawed United back into the Champions League as they hope to push back to their former title challenging glory in 15/16.
Now armed with a reported £100 million war chest and full backing from the United board, staff, and players, Van Gaal is tasked with bringing the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.
As big of a challenge as it may be for the Red Devils, there is nothing to suggest that United can’t be favourites when it comes to the Premier League betting odds, so long as they focus on a few key areas.
If Van Gaal can find a consistent formation, exploit each player in his best position and add talent in key areas, then we could see United challenging for the title all the way until May 15th.
Coming into the 14/15 season, Van Gaal was already on the back foot due to injuries which meant that he had to experiment with the formation. The result of that was a back three formation that included inexperienced Tyler Blackett which resulted in five points from the first possible fifteen.
The next six games yielded just eight points as Van Gaal attempted to squeeze new talent into an ever-evolving formation. By the time United went on their first proper league run (ten unbeaten), it was clear that success was found when the developed wingbacks of Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia played alongside at least one regular first team center back of either Chris Smalling or Phil Jones.
As Van Gaal had to struggle with rotating his team throughout the year, it was hard to find any consistency in formation for the Red Devils. By the end of the season, the three at the back evolved into a 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 as that too brought along a run of success.
With less rotation, United sides that constantly featured Wayne Rooney, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Valencia, Young, Jones, and Smalling seemed to be Van Gaal’s best option. As van Gaal found an in-form starting XI that required less rotation, success seemed to follow.
If van Gaal can come into the start of the season with a relatively static starting XI that lines up in some variation of a 4-3-3, Manchester United could start the season much better compared to last season. Though some rotation may be required with new players, less in this case is more as his XI can form proper partnerships with each other on the field.
Player Position Consistency
Directly following on from Van Gaal’s lack of consistency with formation throughout the season is his lack of consistency with player positions. In the manager’s bid to give all his stars enough minutes throughout the season, some of them had to be very fluid in their starting positions.
Daley Blind for example managed to play as a full back, center back, and holding midfielder all in quick succession.
Angel Di Maria switched between winger, attacking midfielder, and striker while Young found himself in defence, midfield, and attack at various points throughout 14/15. Even the incredibly established Rooney had to juggle being a striker, attacking mid, and central mid leading to a lot of forced adaptation for a lot of players.
This was definitely a cause of inconsistency for United as they seemed as capable of losing to Burnley as they were of beating Chelsea throughout the year. While this was understandable for Van Gaal in his first year in charge with a whole host of new players to accommodate, it must change for United to stand a chance of success next season.
Versatility is a great strength no doubt, for van Gaal and his large talented squad, and should they have another injury meltdown as they did last season, it will prove very useful. However, in an ideal world where injuries and team selection are not an issue for the Red Devils, keeping their players in their single preferred position through the year will have positive effects on the team.
Assistant manager, Ryan Giggs, has reportedly outlined United’s need to add talent to the spine of the team. As a result, in addition to the already announced Memphis Depay, United will look to add a world-class goalkeeper, defender, central midfielder, and striker to the already stacked team.
With a very high expectation of new signings, Van Gaal will only be satisfied with a world-class replacement for David De Gea who is rumoured to be leaving Manchester this summer.
As with many of his other signings, van Gaal may be torn between former players of his and all out star power with names including Jasper Cillessen and Hugo Lloris among potential targets.
Only Van Gaal knows what he wants in a replacement but for a goalkeeper, Premier League experience may prove to be the trumping factor in this decision.
Moving forward into defence, there is only one name on the tongues of fans; Sergio Ramos. The Spaniard has been rumoured to be unhappy with his position at Real Madrid and may be looking for greener pastures this summer.
While this may be a dream move for all United fans, it may force De Gea to go the other way if a deal can be struck at all. If the Red Devils find themselves to be punching too far above their weight, very impressive alternate targets include Zenit’s Ezequiel Garay and Valencia’s Nicolas Otamendi.
In an effort to put together an even more formidable midfield, United are looking for big names in the middle of the park. With a lot of the transfer rumour mill dedicated to this position, van Gaal appears to be primarily interested in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin.
While the latter appears to reportedly favour a move to Arsenal, Schweinsteiger has just one year left on his current Bayern Munich contract and a healthy relationship with the United boss.
If Van Gaal were to lure Schweinsteiger to Old Trafford, it would be another in a long line of high profile signings for the Dutchman and the World Cup winner would be welcomed with open arms into United’s starting XI.
Finally, to complete the upgrade of Manchester United’s spine, Van Gaal is definitely looking to sign a top quality striker. With Radamel Falcao departing and now joining Chelsea, Robin van Persie’s imminent departure and Javier Hernández reportedly set to leave Old Trafford, United are in the market for a marksman and so far, few names have popped up.
Future English star Harry Kane has been identified as a top target for United as Van Gaal looks for an English successor to Rooney. Tottenham are adamant on holding onto the young Brit as they have slapped a £40 million+ price tag on Kane.
While that may be another uphill negotiating process for the Glazers to sort out, star power has not been ruled out in the form of Edison Cavani. The Uruguayan is rumoured to be unsettled at PSG due to his forced deference to Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the true striker in the team. With that, Cavani has been looking for a move away from Paris and van Gaal may just be his savior.
Either way, United are looking to bolster their striking options and with the budget available to them, it is almost certain that a large name will be making the trip up North within the next two months.
If Manchester United and Van Gaal can put all of these changes together, then it is hard to see a situation in which the Red Devils aren’t contending for the Premier League title. Such a large organization will expect nothing less and with a return to Champions League football, it may be a mere ten months before we see United back at full glory.