Thanks to a last-minute goal from Belgian star Maroune Fellaini on Tuesday, Manchester United have completed the pre-season with six wins out of as many matches and are looking in good shape under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal. Waving off LA Galaxy, Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia in six friendly matches, the Red Devils are going to start their campaign against Swansea City in the first match of English Premier League 2014-15.
Last season was the first time Manchester United was not in top three in Premier League era and no team has ever won the league after such a disastrous season. However, this year, along with Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, United is also a strong contender to lift the trophy.
No European Competition
The main advantage working in favor of the team is their absence from the European competitions. That way, Louis Van Gaal will find it a lot easier to keep the squad fit and fresh for Premier League matches, something that troubled the ex-boss David Moyes as Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney were absent for most part of the second half. And on a relevant note, this was also the key factor behind Liverpool’s ecstatic run in the previous version of the competition.
The Dutchman, as soon as he arrived in Old Trafford, adopted his favorite 3-4-1-2 formation that proved to be yielding for the Dutch national team in the recently concluded FIFA World Cup. This formation offers flexibility to the team as they can change it to a more defensive 5-3-2 whenever needed. Though some pundits are skeptical whether Antonio Valencia can successfully execute the role of the right wing-back, a position where Dirk Kuyt was phenomenal for Netherlands during the World Cup, the pre-season shows a lot of promise for the United fans.
To add to the advantage of the new formation, the coach has two new signings namely Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera. The first one is going to be too crucial as the left wing back and with his attacking ability, can be instrumental on both ends of the pitch. However, his four-week long injury break at the scratch of the league will give Gaal a testing time in the absence of Patrice Evra, as the Red Devils squad does not boast of too many experienced left-backs. Herrera, on the other hand, will be handed the role of a central midfielder alongside Darren Fletcher. In his very first match against LA Galaxy, he showed his class with three assists.
Furthermore, the reserve bench looks much stronger than the previous season. Reece James, taking place of Luke Shaw in some pre-season matches, has showed that he has the material to be a future star. Not only has he defended well as a wing-back, but also found the net on more than one occasion. Ashley Young, Adnan Januzaj, Maroune Fellaini have been in good touch as well and once Michael Carrick is fit, Van Gaal will have lots of options up his sleeve.
The attacking trio of Rooney-Welbeck-Mata was amazing right from the start in their first match in the International Champions Cup. They will be accompanied with the ‘flying Dutchman’ Robin Van Persie once he is fit and then, the fans can expect goal-fests each week. Rooney, especially, having been named the captain, is booming with confidence after a wonderful build-up to the season. He said, “It is a huge honour for me – and for my family – to be named captain of this great club. It is a role I will perform with great pride.”
Finally, Van Gaal’s tactical genius will come handy against the big teams and is presumed to play a pivotal part in the club’s upheaval. The team along with the fans greeted him with fervor and his presence in the club can play a crucial role in signing the likes of Nigel De Jong, Marcos Rojo, Juan Cuadrado and Angel Di Maria, the ones Manchester United are reported to be going after.
The only problem, that may affect the Red Devils, is no new name in the backline. They are already trying to pursue Roma’s £30 million-rated centre-back Mehdi Benatia and, as news has spread, are readying a £29 million bid for in-demand German centre-back Mats Hummels. Should they seal at least one of these deals, the fans can surely be positive for a 14th Premier League title.