The curtain has come down on Manchester United’s season. A season that initially promised so much delivered a United at their very worst at times whilst still portraying a free-flowing, breath taking style of football on a select few other occasions. Ultimately, the 2014/15 campaign will be remembered as average.
The real work starts now for Louis Van Gaal. He and everyone else connected with the club know that United must be challenging for trophies next season and that 17 point deficit in the league behind champions Chelsea needs cutting dramatically. This past season will be judged come the end of next season. It will either be viewed as an important transitional season cementing the platform to hoist United back to the top of English football or a season that was just a sneak preview of a number of disappointing years ahead. The stage is set for Van Gaal.
The club has a manager that understands the enormity of job. He get’s the support, he get’s the history and he get’s the fact that success is a necessity. An extraordinary end of season speech however is not enough to secure a career of longevity at the club and next season will be a defining one for the Dutchman. If United are going to start flashing the cash around like Real Madrid then sooner or later they too will expect instant success like Real Madrid.
The Red’s already look far more proactive in this summer’s transfer window with PSV’s Memphis Depay having already been brought in to bolster the ranks. The 21-year-old who has 27 goals to his name in all competitions this season will undoubtedly add pace and goals to this United side; a signing that many believe will see the side operate in a more familiar free flowing 4-3-3 formation that Van Gaal’s sides have displayed in the past.
Manchester United are crying out for goals in fact. Wayne Rooney, this seasons top goalscorer, mustered a total of just 14 goals. That is simply pathetic compared to Europe’s other top clubs and if United are to get anywhere near challenging Chelsea next season then a twenty goal a season striker will be the bare minimum. The dream of Radamel Falcao supplying that has ended and Robin Van Persie can unfortunately no longer be deemed as a reliable source of goals. James Wilson needs a season out on loan in order to develop so United must delve into the market for a striker. Javier Hernandez’s return may prove fruitful but next season is not the stage on which to gamble.
On the plus side a lot of United’s goals last season came from midfield. Ander Herrera contributed a useful 8 goals in an encouraging first season whilst Juan Mata accumulated an impressive tally of 10 goals and Maroune Fellaini found the back of the net on 7 occasions. The rest of the midfield including Daley Blind, Di Maria, Ashley Young and Michael Carrick weighed in with another 8 goals. This is an encouraging sign and if the same trend repeats itself next season then this will help the Red’s close that gap on Chelsea.
When on the subject of midfield it will be intriguing to see how United’s midfield shapes up next season. Angel Di Maria’s future is uncertain but it would take a a callous decision not to want to at least explore the feasibility of the Argentine playing on the right of a 4-3-3 next season. Either that or a space in a central trio may be reserved for a player who featured in last season’s team of the year. United have lost Falcao, it would be shame to lose another possible gem of a player.
Maroune Fellaini’s importance will surely be reduced next season if United are to push on. The controversial Belgian has supplied some vitally important moments, not least the winning goal at Selhurst Park which gave Van Gaal’s side their one solitary victory in the last six games. He will never represent the style of football United are demanded to play however and you would be shocked if there isn’t a more functional player included within the starting eleven next season. Fellaini’s grand total of 0 assists evokes this.
Michael Carrick’s continued importance is more a reason to worry than celebrate. At 34-years-of-age and an increasing amount of injuries his presence in the side needs to be dramatically reduced next season if the Red’s are to competitively participate on four fronts. A replacement holding player is a necessity and United could do far worse than looking at Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira this summer. A world cup winner, a wealth of experience, available on the cheap and only out of favour in Spain only because Real Madrid lack any sort of common sense.
Moving on to the defence. An area not quite as bad as some may make it out to be. United ended up with the fourth best defensive record in the league, not bad when accounting for the mammoth amount of injuries in the first half of the season. Chris Smalling’s emergence as the clubs best defender may be considered as slightly concerning but when viewing the Englishman’s performances as of late you feel United are only one centre-back away from having a fairly solid foundation. That’s if Chris Smalling can stay fit of course.
The left back area is well covered with the abilities of Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind and if Luke Shaw can stay fit then the few performances we have seen resemble that of a 19-year-old with world class potential. Marcos Rojo has been a great addition to the side and he will get is fair share of activities again in the next campaign. Phil Jones has reason to worry however. The somewhat unconventional centre-back at times has failed to really push on and if another centre-back is added as expected then he may well start to struggle for games next season. Jonny Evans needs a mention here, a short one though, his United career must surely be over.
Van Gaal must also have one eye on the right-back position. The ever reliant Antonio Valencia has done an admirable job filling in and his pure athleticism and pace going forward have helped soothe his defensive frailties. The fact of the matter is however he is not a defender, his positioning is poor and an upgrade is needed. The ship has sailed with Rafael sadly and an injury record as chequered as Valencia’s crossing ability means his time at the club is up. Nathaniel Clyne is a name mentioned on everyone’s lips but perhaps Wolfsburg’s Sebastian Jung should come into consideration having had an excellent season in the Bundesliga.
Now for the emotional goodbye’s. The player of the season for the last two years David De Gea is almost defiantly off to the sun and chaos of Madrid. His slight pause and expression in similarity to a confused 4-year-old at the player of the year awards may give hope to some that a deal isn’t done just yet but nevertheless Louis Van Gaal has a huge problem on his hands. Victor Valdes demonstrated against Hull City that he is still the goalkeeper we all thought he was. A fantastic shot stopper, good with his feet, but woeful with anything above head height. He won’t be the answer. Petr Cech’s agent was reportedly pictured with Ed Woodward and would feasibly seem the sensible choice. His experience would surely help settle United’s back line.
All in all, new faces and improvements need to be made. United look set to spend big this summer and a larger squad will be fundamental if the Red’s can execute a victory in what could be a potentially nightmare qualifying game to get back into the Champions league. The squads dramatic decline following the 4-2 victory over Manchester City spells more than just a few warning signs and with all fingers crossed Van Gaal has learnt more than just a few things about certain players during the abysmal end to the season.
Finishing on a positive note, those victories over Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City were sublime and can be looked back on in fondness if next season turns out to be a rewarding one. The manager has got it right in the big games and we’ve seem glimpses of the United that could become associated with the Van Gaal era. With a years understanding an experience of the Premier League he should continue to push the red half of Manchester in the right direction. A little more bravery, a lot less tinkering and exactly the same amount of passion and Louis Van Gaal can succeed at Manchester United.