It looks like the master has taken a leaf out of his pupil’s book this summer. Following the footsteps of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea last year, Louis van Gaal has looked to address Manchester United’s problems from the last campaign nice and early.
There have been some outstanding signings in midfield, with Morgan Schneiderlin joining from Southampton for £27 million, along with World Cup winning star Bastian Schweinsteiger. While the former was very much on the agenda, the surprise signing of Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich has given the club a real boost. This was after, of course, a deal was agreed towards the end of last season for winger Memphis Depay, one of the brightest young prospects in world football. The Dutchman’s transfer from PSV Eindhoven was completed in June, for a fee of £25 million. The fourth player to have joined is right-back Matteo Darmian, signing from Serie A side Torino.
Thick in the middle, thin on the sides?
Along with a lack of creativity and steel in midfield, one of United’s big worries last season was their defence. It took a while for the manager to find his best combination, in a season where the Red Devils finished 4th, losing 8 games and conceding 37 goals in the process. Van Gaal played 3 at the back before switching to the more orthodox 4, while also trying out different players in different positions.
It has become apparent that the Dutchman doesn’t want those problems to repeat next season, as he desperately looks to sign a top-quality centre-back. The transfer saga involving Sergio Ramos has been going on since forever, while other quality defenders like Jerome Boateng and Stefan de Vrij have also been mentioned.
The signing of Darmian does add quality, but United will feel they can do a lot better than Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the heart of their backline.
Another issue that Van Gaal will need to address is that of his forwards. With Robin Van Persie and Radamel Falcao both leaving, Wayne Rooney is the only recognised striker left at the club. Javier Hernandez is set to re-join the club after his loan spell at Real Madrid last season, but it is very probable that we will see United attempting to sign a world-class forward in the coming weeks.
David De Gea has been linked with a move to Madrid all summer, and if United manage to hold on to him, it will be as good as signing a big name. The Spaniard was their standout player last season, and successfully fending off the biggest club in the world will be a huge signal of intent.
Can they challenge for the title?
Last season was very much an acclimitisation phase for Van Gaal in the Premier League. The Dutchman was let off the hook despite some poor results, but that will not happen this time around. Man United are a club used to success, and the Dutchman’s every move will be analysed and scrutinised this year.
As far as challenging defending champions Chelsea for the Premier League title is concerned, I still believe United are a couple of signings short. Like I’ve mentioned above, the defence needs a commander-in-chief to orchestrate things for the back. Along with that, a proven goalscorer will need to be brought in. Rooney has risen to the task when asked to before, but having close to no cover for the Englishman is a high-risk proposition.
The new group will take time to gel together, and it remains to be seen if Van Gaal goes into the season knowing what his best combination is. A good, solid start is imperative if they are to have any chance of winning their first league title in three seasons.
I will conclude by saying that going from 4th to 1st may be a step too far at the moment, but United will put in a proper fight. Jose Mourinho has been quiet this summer, and will go with largely the same team he played last year. United, on the other hand, are brimming with the freshness only quality buys can bring in.
If they kick on and sign a couple more top-quality players, especially a centre-half and a centre-forward, the Chelsea-Manchester United rivalry that dominated most of the last decade could be on its way back soon.