By Peter Shand @peter_shand89
Whilst the appointment of a world class coach is an exciting prospect for United fans, reinforcements are still needed for the squad to pose a title challenge
After a season that was worse than anyone could have predicted, 2014/15 promises an exciting step forward for United. Whilst the lack of European nights at Old Trafford is a real loss, a tighter squad and a manager who has instantly demanded the respect from the squad Moyes never could augur well for the new season. The most troubling thing about ‘The Chosen One’s’ year in charges was that he brought a mentality to United that almost said a squad of title winners weren’t good enough to compete at the top level (who can forget the ‘Underdogs’ tag he gave the team against Liverpool!?). Van Gaal has already boasted about how United are the biggest club in the world. He knows the score, and the players should respond accordingly.
Key areas for improvement are the defence and the home form. Last season saw United stumble like a 3am drunk to a series of disappointing results at home, finishing with our worst home record since football began in 1992-93 (as the Premier League will have us believe). A major factor in this was a lack of defensive cohesiveness, with United playing a number of different pairings last year. Now moving to a three at the back, a system which has often baffled English players, we will require reinforcements given that there are currently only three recognised centre backs at the club – none of which can be described as ‘proven’. I expect a big season from Jonny Evans in leading the back line, and hope that we sign at least one more centre back before the transfer window closes. Thomas Vermaelen has been heavily linked, but given his injury troubles we’d need another one to cover it.
Which leads on to the subject of transfer activity. Ed Woodward, the Chief Executive, was robust in his assessment of transfer targets claiming that we’d spend big earlier this summer, but too often thus far he has been all talk and a lack of delivery. Herrera has shown that he will provide the much needed link between defence and attack, whilst Shaw will be first choice but even with a £30m tag can’t expected to be a world class full back at 18. A commanding central midfielder is still needed to go alongside Herrera, as too often we have been bullied over the past couple of years – in particular by Yaya Toure. With Fellaini not appearing to be the answer (queue sniggering at the back), and the Chilean Arturo Vidal destined to remain, it looks as if we’ll be awaiting Louis’ Dutch protégé Kevin Strootman’s return from injury in January to target midfield reinforcements.
Personally, I think this could be a little late as Darren Fletcher will be the first choice midfielder until at least October given Michael Carrick’s current injury troubles, and cannot still be expected to dominate midfield areas. Our record against the top teams was poor last season, and this must improve if we’re to have any chance of a top four finish. Given how all the other contenders have strengthened this summer, this must be seen as a priority, as even with van Gaal’s ‘golden willy’, as Arjen Robben eloquently put it, that area of the team is sadly not what it once was.
It will be interesting to see how United fans would react if there weren’t any further signings this summer in much needed positions. Our defence/midfield are definitely not title challengers and may even struggle to reach fourth without reinforcements. If Woodward is unable to bring in another couple of players, especially given his wild statements on potential transfer activity, I would recommend leaving him to the commercial side of things and bringing in a Director of Football who knows the game and how to sign players. At least this summer we’ve learnt from last year’s embarrassingly public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas…
Woodward is an undoubted master of the commercial aspect of the game, however. The recent record kit deal with Adidas, worth over £700 million over ten years, shows his mastery of the market, but even this contains further warning, if needed, of the perils of a further season without Champions League football, with the deal plummeting by over £20 million per season should we see a second consecutive season without Champions League football. United’s focus on the commercial side of things will have to wait for another blog…
A top heavy squad does see United boast arguably the best attacking line up in the league, with Rooney, Van Persie, Mata, Januzaj and Welbeck a tantalising prospect under the tutelage of the attacking master van Gaal. The bloated nature of the front players – even van Gaal has been bemoaning the amount of number 10’s in the squad – means that he can happily wave goodbye to Nani, Anderson, Hernandez and Kagawa, which will hopefully free up some space for playing time for youngsters such as James Wilson and Jesse Lingaard. In my opinion, United haven’t played consistently attractive football for a number of years, and the glimpses on tour in America have been a breath of fresh air. If you haven’t seen it already, I’d highly recommend spending thirty seconds watching Ashley Young’s goal against Real Madrid.
Whisper it to those fans who think that a pre-season trophy means that United are now definitely odds-on for the title, but this season success would be defined as a top four finish. Overhauling Everton and Spurs shouldn’t be too difficult, but Liverpool may be a tougher nut to crack. I’m expecting that the Suarez hole will be impossible to fill, and see United pip the Scousers into fourth through the plethora of attacking talent at their disposal.