After the pain, and what felt at times like purgatory last season, it’s fair to say that there was a sense of optimism prior to the start of the season. As fans, broadly speaking, all we want this season is a complete change from the Groundhog Day tedium of watching United under Moyes. And none of us can argue that van Gaal has delivered that immediately by reversing Moyes’ opening day result of last season with a loss to Swansea.
After that result, it appears that Louis van Gaal now understands just how steep the hill in front of him actually is and perhaps just how far below par some of our squad are capable of performing. Also, to give van Gaal a bit of credit, he completely changed his formation at halftime in recognition that his tactics were not working.
Admittedly, the second half was poor, but at least he was willing to act decisively and change things; something that David Moyes was completely incapable of doing. OK, I’m clutching at straws but you will have to forgive me; I’m still steeped in pre-season optimism. The only other positive from the game? Januzaj.
Rooney is not a good choice as Manchester United captain, in my opinion. I won’t labour the point because the decision has been made but I can only assume that Rooney has been made captain in a calculated move by van Gaal to patronise him into performing on the pitch. There aren’t any really obvious captains in the squad and I assume that Fletcher is not likely to play enough games to make him a viable candidate but Rooney is an odd choice. He doesn’t train well, doesn’t look after himself and doesn’t seem to care that his first touch and lay-off passing needs a lot of work.
I know that I lay into Rooney a lot but he has so much natural talent that he seems content to waste and simply coast through his career being an also ran. Where is the desire to be the best? If he had that I would expect him to train properly, eat well and not drink to excess during the season. His career will be over in the blink of an eye at which point he will have all the time in the world to get fat and smoke.
I expect van Gaal to have taken van Persie to one side and told him that he knows Robin will perform to his best and still act as a captain on the pitch but that he needs to give the armband to Rooney to pacify his ego and get him to perform.
In my opinion, on paper, this United squad is strong enough to finish in the top four…just. Liverpool are weaker this season despite their signings and the top three are likely to be City, Chelsea and Arsenal. Also, we shouldn’t get hung up about the Swansea result because we had a lot of good quality players out injured. You could argue that van Persie, Valencia, Rafael, Carrick and Shaw would all have started that game had they been fit. That said, the starting XI was still better, man-for-man, than the Swansea XI and we should have won the game.
My optimism that we will finish top four also stems from the fact that we are not in Europe at all this season so van Gaal will have more time to change things in training sessions. In fact, United are going to get more back-to-basics training this season than they have ever had in the Premier League era. So if we assume that van Gaal has a game-plan and an ability to implement it through training he is going to get every opportunity to drill it into the players as quickly as possible.
It’s obvious that United still need another mobile, box-to-box midfielder to go alongside Herrera and possibly another central defender in addition to Rojo given how injury prone Jones, Smalling and Evans have shown themselves to be. If the transfer window closes and United manage to secure a midfielder such as Vidal or Khedira and another defender such as Hummels (assuming we will be playing three at the back this season) then I would be more optimistic and revise my prediction to us edging out Arsenal to finish third. I can’t see a situation where we are genuinely challenging for the title this season.
So what should we expect this season?
1. Better football more in keeping with the Manchester United philosophy of an attacking style.
2. Pre-game aspirations that go beyond “making it difficult” for other teams.
3. Players who know what their job on the pitch is, are motivated to play for the shirt and try to win every game.
If we get these changes I believe that we will improve markedly on last season. Anything more than this would be a welcome bonus.