Manchester United 2015/16 Season Preview
Louis van Gaal had a clear mandate last season: restore Manchester United to the Champions League. The aim now is to build on that achievement and challenge for the league title.
The club will also expect to reach the business end of the Champions League, which would require progress beyond mid-August’s final knockout round and the group stages that follow.
Manchester United probably have the best collection of goalkeepers in the Premier League with Sergio Romero, who has 62 caps for Argentina, deputising for David De Gea. The Spaniard is expected to eventually leave for Real Madrid but that deal now seems less likely to happen this summer so United should be comfortable in that department.
At the back, United should be stronger, particularly thanks to the signing of Matteo Darmian who is a much better defender than makeshift right-back Antonio Valencia. Luke Shaw will hopefully enjoy a better season after his extra efforts during the summer to improve his fitness.
It looks like Van Gaal will not have the experienced central defender he wanted so he will have to make do with Phil Jones, Paddy McNair or Chris Smalling on the right as well as Marcos Rojo, Jonny Evans or Daley Blind on the left side of central defence, unless he can get another player in before the end of the month.
When fit, Michael Carrick should remain a first-choice holding midfielder despite the arrival of both Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. Van Gaal will probably deploy a system that uses two central midfielders at the base of midfield so at least one of the new recruits, as well as Ander Herrera, will be pushing for starts.
At the time of writing, there is a high probability that United will replace Angel Di Maria with Pedro Rodriguez. Should that happen, United will have a good variety of attacking midfielders with the pace and trickery of Memphis Depay, Ashley Young and Pedro plus the developing Adnan Januzaj. They will also have a conventional number 10 in Juan Mata, as well as the battering ram that is Marouane Fellaini.
Van Gaal’s charges will probably be a bit light up top. Wayne Rooney is the only complete striker available to Van Gaal.
Javier Hernandez may be the best finisher at the club but he lacks the physical presence of a target man and is not good enough to efficiently help during the build-up of play. James Wilson is still learning his trade so United may have to turn to their attacking midfielders in case of suspensions or injuries to their captain.
De Gea has been the best player at United over the last two seasons and he was the main reason Van Gaal’s charges finished in the top four last season. While he lacks the physical presence of the likes of Joe Hart or Thibaut Courtois, De Gea is the most agile goalkeeper in the world and is good in possession with both feet.
Young player to watch
Memphis will no doubt be one of the most exciting players to join the Premier League this season. He can score from direct free-kicks, commit defenders and score from range.
Last season’s Dutch league top scorer, the striker has the potential to thrill Premier League fans similar to Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.
Throughout the pre-season, Van Gaal employed a 4-4-1-1 formation with Memphis dovetailing with Rooney but there is a widespread belief that the United manager will turn to his favoured 4-3-3 formation for the new campaign.
Whichever formation Van Gaal choses, his team will continue to work the ball from the back, control play through ball retention and try to penetrate the opponent by increasing the tempo in the offensive-third.
Chelsea remain the team to beat in the top flight and Arsenal are probably stronger as a unit than United. On the plus side, Van Gaal’s charges have already adjusted to the Dutch boss’ philosophy and there was a significant improvement in the way United played in the second-half of last season.
In terms of the Champions League, United have a lot of seasoned players in that competition, with Schweinsteiger, Mata, Rooney and Carrick all having won the competition before. They should at least get to the knockout stages but winning the elusive competition requires elite forwards like Neymar, Arjen Robben, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, which United currently do not have.