Manchester United 2014/15 season preview

Wayne Rooney with Louis van Gaal
Manchester United manager and captain are locked in discussion ahead of the 2014/15 season.

Yes, it is that time of year. Those boring summer months are a thing of the past as the first day of the Premier League season is upon us! Manchester United have a new manager at the helm for the second time in twelve months and we thought we’d ask the lads a few questions on how the season may unfold. Will Louis van Gaal win the league title with United in his first season? Will the club sign anyone in the window? Who will get relegated? We ask you also to contribute in the comments with your suggestions.

1) How do you think United are going to do in these competitions?
a. League
b. FA Cup
c. League Cup
d. Europ… err, um, table tennis matches between the players?

League: Heart always says 1st, but more realistically – 3rd
FA Cup: Haven’t won the trophy since 2004 – so it would be great feat. Who knows with the luck of the draw.
League Cup: Go on. We’ll win that, then.

El Rob:
League: I say 1st every year, even last year, so yeah, 3rd realistically 1st.
FA Cup: I really miss winning the FA Cup. It’s been more than ten years. Van Gaal won the Copa del Rey in his first season at Barcelona, and the German Cup – or the “DFB Pokal” in Martian-speak – in his first season at Bayern, after which he gave this truly amazing and terrifyingly Hitlerian speech on the balcony of The Castle of Doom some castle Bayern made out of Bundesliga trophies or something. United are definitely going to win the FA Cup.
League Cup: United beat City 4-3 after extra time in the final. United captain for the day Tyler “The Creator” Blackett to set up the winner for James Wilson, seconds after Tyler “The Destroyer” Blackett makes a crucial goal-line clearance to deny Stefan Jovetic.
Europ… err, um, table tennis matches between the players?: Juan Mata.

As with any season, expectations have to be high. Even at the beginning of last season, we were Premier League champions Manchester United and that counted for everything. Now, you didn’t have to be Stevie Wonder to not see the level of failure under David Moyes, but things are different now. We have a manager with proven success, a new system which seems to be working if pre-season is any indication and, given what we had to sit through under Moyes, a growing feeling of optimism. There is no reason for us to do any worse than 4th place this season, even if other teams strengthen their ranks. It only takes one key transfer or one career turnaround for a player under scrutiny to make a difference, so United should sneak back into the top four. That may negate the need to remain for any great period of time in any of the cup competitions, but that’s a sacrifice I think we’d all make for Champions League football again.

So, in a nutshell: better than last year; same as last year; worse than last year; van Gaal if he gets to use his own balls.

Sleepy Nik:
a.League – 2nd, though with van Gaal’s approach to the game, we can push for our title back for sure.
b. FA Cup – we have to win it soon, so, champions.
c. League Cup – Johnstone, Thorpe, Keane, Blackett, Lingard, James et al should be given full license to have fun in this one.
d. Europ… err, um, table tennis matches between the players? More reason to expect a title push.

Karate Jesus

League – I said 2nd a couple of days ago. On reflection, think it could be anywhere between 2nd and 5th. Have Chelsea down to win it, think the rest of the top 5 is nigh on impossible to call, all things considered.

FA Cup – Depends on the draw, of course. I’ll say semi finals but complete guesswork.

League Cup – Winners. Got to hope we win something!

2) Louis van Gaal has had a pretty nice start to life as United’s “trainer-coach” (his phrase, not ours).
• What was your reaction when his appointment was first announced?
• What are you most looking forward to this season?

Sleepy Nik:

a. What was your reaction when his appointment was first announced?
One of relief and expectation. Here is a man who can actually attempt to fill Fergie’s shoes. Despite his mistakes in the past, and obvious weaknesses, he seems to have matured into a coach who can truly inspire. There appears to be a tranquility about him, an assuredness that also came into Fergie’s approach in the latter stages of his tenure; van Gaal (according to those who know him best) has seemingly learnt from the misuse of ‘arrogant tirades’ – both to player and journalist – which has led him to become more content, more in control as a result, and less inclined to become embroiled in battles with the media and managerial colleagues.

b. What are you most looking forward to this season?
If van Gaal can continue in the positive manner in which he has started, and contain his emotion as above, there are no bounds to what he can achieve; and this doesn’t necessarily mean silverware. United need to regain their mojo, and fast. A style of football that add verve and panache; football that scares the likes of City and Chelsea like it used to (they’ve become far too conceited all of a sudden). Last season hurt, with the one saving grace being that United acted swiftly (I remained positive they would to be honest). Van Gaal simply needs to stick to his principles, and the attacking football will flow; a few ‘silly goals’ are bound to be conceded early doors, what with a high line and a first stab at wing-backs, but needs must.

Karate Jesus: a) Given it’s inevitability by the time it was announced, my reaction was certainly not one of surprise. Don’t think many would have had him on their shortlist twelve months ago but the relief at Moyes going was enough for content to be felt at whoever came in. Overall – a feeling of intrigue, I guess.

b) Goals from open play at home. You could literally count them on one hand in the league up until February, I think.

Stretford_End: Absolutely delighted. A world class manager with a proven track record of winning trophies and of course, lifted the European Cup with Ajax in 1995. I’m most looking forward to seeing United playing an exciting brand of football again. Too many times under Moyes, United looked unimaginative, rigid and uninspiring. Louis van Gaal has the ability to switch his system if it isn’t working and I think he’ll do a great job.

Mitchell: Excitement and balls. In that order. Yes, it’s a well-known and overdone joke that van Gaal will literally show his massive testicles to anyone who wishes to see, but the guy isn’t a push over. The only person who could replicate the level of success attained under Sir Alex Ferguson is someone with just as big an ego, just as powerful a force and just as gutsy a tactician. I’m happy to see the Dutchman at Old Trafford and I’m looking forward to seeing how he fares against the new ‘big gun’ managers of the Premier League. LvG vs. Rodgers? That could be a fierce battle, and so it should be. I’d expect nothing less.

El Rob:
My first reaction was this. I’m looking forward to football that excites us, that makes us feel like United again.

3) Van Gaal used an unfamiliar 3-4-1-2 formation in preseason. Thus far the players have reacted well, but he admits it will be a while before they settle into the new system. Is it worth it? Should they work it? Should they put their thing down, flip it and reverse it?

Karate Jesus: Van Gaal clearly felt it worked for the Dutch at the World Cup and there is some logic to the move, given the paucity of our wing options. Not sure if, long term, we’d have been better served going with a 4-3-3 and rotating Van Persie and Rooney as the number 9, though. It will be interesting, regardless, although wouldn’t be too surprised if we revert to 4-3-3 if results against Chelsea and City in the Autumn go against us when using a 3-5-2.

Stretford_End: I don’t think it will be default. He has already spoken about the fact that he doesn’t feel United have the required quality in wide areas to play in a 4-3-3, so he believes playing three at the back is the right system for United at this present moment. Looking forward to it.

Sleepy Nik:
I like what you’ve done there … United needed something cataclysmic (and make no mistake, the change in approach is given our history) like this to happen after the last reign. A club like United should indeed dominate higher up the pitch, taking the game to the opposition – and playing with essentially 3 extra ‘lines’, and eliciting the most from Rooney and Mata in particular should work very well. It has often baffled me why so many top-flight teams have kept four men at the back latterly, especially with the shift from two main strikers to just the one in recent years. A back three allows you to man-mark the single striker, with two spare; and it will be interesting to see how progressive the manager will be in terms of Evans’ and Smalling’s forays forward (if Jones is chosen centrally) – Wilson has recently commented that the ‘space is no longer down the sides’ with the majority of teams playing 4-2-3-1, and instead it is the centre-back who can prosper through the centre.

El Rob:
Here is what I think.

Mitchell: Anything can work if the right man uses the right people at the right time. Will three at the back facilitate the attacking football United fans crave? It didn’t seem to hurt Holland so I can’t see why we’d suffer from it. Anything that allows Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney to play in their rightful positions is going to help the team win games. Our struggle is with defensive depth, but nothing a signing couldn’t fix. You hear me, Ed? A SIGNING!

4) United have only made two big name signings, and they’ve promised more soon. How confident are you about the prospect of more new faces?

Mitchell: Once burned, twice shy. It’s too easy to get caught up in the latest will-they-won’t-they transfer sagas. On Sunday, United want Cuadrado. By Monday, United don’t want Cuadrado. On Tuesday, United want Vidal. By Wednesday, Vidal is actually a woman in a wig. I would hope, for Ed Woodward’s sake that at least one more signing is made before the end of the transfer window. His grand claims of bottomless pits of money are starting to feel incredibly empty. A defender seems a necessity, so I would

Stretford_End: Not overly confident. Marcos Rojo has been linked, but I wasn’t overly impressed with him at the World Cup. United are fine up top – but I think there needs to be two additions; one in the centre of the park and the other in the centre of defence.

Sleepy Nik: I’m confident of at least one more.

Karate Jesus: I’ve thought Blind was a likely signing for the last few weeks and my gut feeling is that there’s been too much smoke around Vidal for it not to be on the cards (although that may be as much hope rather than expectation). Rojo, the Dothraki defender, also seems to be credible from the stories in the last 24 hours. I’d say that three incoming would be the safe bet, with anything on top of that a bonus.

El Rob: One time on QI, John Sessions once said that John Gielgud once told him that the name “Edward Woodward” sounds like a fart in the bath.

5) Shaw and Ander were brought in to remedy the two weakest positions in the squad. While they’ve settled well, and United have strength in depth, vulnerabilities in the starting XI persist. Which areas of the team are still in need of strengthening?

Stretford_End: Two great signings and looking forward to seeing them play – but, as I said in the previous answer – I think a midfielder and a centre half is required to compete.

El Rob: In descending order of goodness-of-hairdo, click here.

Sleepy Nik:

Ideally, we’d like another centre midfielder (Carrick-like), a centre half and a goal-keeper. But if I haven’t learnt that squad development takes time over the last couple of decades, I haven’t learnt anything.

As last season approached its (wonderful) conclusion, I wished for something like the following (prior to January, say) in terms of this development:

Shaw in, Evra gone.

Herrera in, Anderson and Fellaini gone.

With Rio and Vidic gone (the latter I wanted to stay I have to admit), a centre half in the mould of Mangala/Manolas would be great. More game time for Michael Keane.

With Fletcher apparently on his last legs (it did seem that way!), another centre mid in the mould of Vidal coming in.

Wilson coming through, to ‘replace’ Hernandez (the Mexican has been incredibly lucky to last so long IMO, quite limited at the highest level).

A replacement for Lindegaard in – though I am more than happy with Johnstone and Amos.

Zaha and Nani gone (they don’t have the mindset), with perhaps one new face coming in (Cuadrado is one option), and greater chances for Lingard. Valencia will fly this season under the Dutchman.

Mitchell: Central defence. Midfield. On the wings. In the web design department. Lord knows we could probably take a couple more sponsors. The way we’re going, I imagine we’ll be looking for a new executive vice-chairman soon as well.

Karate Jesus:Regardless of whether we play two or three centre backs, one more is essential, especially given fitness records of Jones, Smalling and Evans. One more central midfielder is also essential, despite Fletcher’s renaissance, especially with Carrick’s injury. We’ll find out shortly, though, if Van Gaal is holding out for Strootman. For now, those are the two most important areas, without doubt.

6) United and LvG suit each other perfectly. He loves working with youth players: he can even claim credit for developing some all-time greats. Of United’s current youth crop, who would you most like to see break into the first team?

Stretford_End: James Wilson.

Mitchell:I may look like a complete fool writing this, but I would expect that my choice is the same as most: James Wilson. His time in reserves has got to be over; what else does he have to prove? Lots of goals, consistently one of the best players on the pitch and now someone who not only has Premier League experience but two goals to his name. If the rumours of Hernandez’ exit are correct, an opening has been created. Add to the real prospect that van Persie doesn’t have long left as a top-flight performer and you have to believe it’s time for Wilson to take the leap into not only first team football, but securing his place in the starting XI for a very long time to come.

El Rob:

Sleepy Nik: Last year I would have said Lingard; but the one player who now truly stands out, is Jimmy Wilson. Michael Keane, Reece James and Sam Johnstone have a chance, and Thorpe is great at his current level.

Karate Jesus: No surprises here, but Wilson should be 4th choice striker going into the new season, with Hernandez leaving to make room for him. I’d also like to see Lingard given a place in the squad for the season and, on the evidence of the tour, I’d imagine Blackett will be kept around as 5th choice centre-back. It will be interesting to see if Van Gaal chooses to keep Nick Powell around as well.

7) List time!
• List your predicted Premier League top four, in order;
• List your predicted relegationists (order doesn’t matter).
• United aren’t in it, which feels super weird, but anyway: list your predictions for the Champions League semis, final and winner.

El Rob: Top 4: United somewhere in the top four, Liverpool not in the top four. The top four will therefore be in order.
Bottom 3: Leicester City, Hull City, Burnley, Leeds United.
Champions League: Real Madrid to beat Chelsea in the final after they beat Juventus and Barcelona respectively in the semis.

Mitchell:Top 4: Chelsea, City, Liverpool, United.
Bottom 3: Burnley, Aston Villa, West Brom.
Champions League: Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and eventual winners – Real Madrid.

Stretford_End: Top 4: Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal
Bottom 3: Swansea City, Burley, Crystal Palace
Champions League: Winners – Real Madrid, Runners Up: Bayern Munich, Semi Finalists: Chelsea & Barcelona.
Karate Jesus:

(Top Four) Chelsea, erm… City, Arsenal, United to make up top four. See, my 2nd has already changed to 4th – so difficult to call. Also, not convinced Liverpool will miss out on top 4 despite the above and despite putting City in 2nd here, I’d be slightly worried if I was a City fan with the number of recurring injuries that Kompany and Aguero get.

(Relegation Fodder) Burnley, West Brom and… hmmm… erm… Swansea? No idea on that 3rd one to be honest.

(Champions League) Real, Bayern, Chelsea and Barca.

Sleepy Nik:
a. List your predicted Premier League top four, in order; Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal
b. List your predicted relegationists (order doesn’t matter). West Brom, Crystal Palace, Burnley
c. United aren’t in it, which feels super weird, but anyway: list your predictions for the Champions League semis, final and winner. Real vs Bayern final. Chelsea pushing them close, Simeone continuing to impress.

8) World Cup 2014 was very, very enjoyable, the first indisputably good World Cup in decades.
• Which player impressed you the most at the World Cup?
• Which one would you most like to see at United?

Karate Jesus: Robben was the best player at the World Cup and dealing in realities, and given previous answers and requirements, Vidal would do just fine.

Stretford_End: Robben was magnificent and it was a tragedy he did not win player of the tournament. Like most people, the Dutchman, James Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria impressed me throughout.

El Rob: Arjen Robben was the best player and sadly it was Toni Kroos… sigh.

Sleepy Nik:

a. Which player impressed you the most at the World Cup? Yedlin (new), but Toni Kroos. But I’m bias, so I will say Manolas. We are talking about such a young and inexperienced player, and one that came ever so close to a quarter final, indeed a semi perhaps.
b. Which one would you most like to see at United? Any of the three!

Mitchell: I’m not sure, player wise. The easy choice is James Rodriguez but the whole team effort of the Dutch was comforting to me, seeing what van Gaal can do with a group of individuals who aren’t all, shall we say, sitting at the top of the tree. In terms of World Cup players at United, I’d say Ronaldo all day every day every damn day. It doesn’t particularly fix our issues, though. At a push, I’d maybe throw a curveball and say Ron Vlaar: had a good showing, worked well in a three and fits right into our most precarious position.

9) We’ve all had time to recover from last season’s omnishambles. How did your thoughts and feelings about Moyes/United in 2013-14 evolve?

Karate Jesus:
Not my choice and needs to start well, romantic decision from club, support your manager… Not a great start but then, things should get easier and too early to panic… Hmm, still not going well but recoverable and we’ve had it good for a long time…Players look like their heads have gone (post successive defeats to Everton and Newcastle)… Turning point as get some wins over Christmas?… What the fuck was that? (defeat to an awful Spurs team on New Year’s Day)… Jesus, this isn’t looking good (defeats to Sunderland and Swansea)… Literally incredible! (De Gea gaffe and defeat on penalties to Sunderland, 2-2 v Fulham)… This is awful and not sure anyone can turn it round after a start to their career here like this (Olympiakos, Liverpool, City – take your pick)… Thank fuck for that (Moyes gone).

El Rob:
Before pre-season: “OK.”
Pre-season: “Hmm.”
August-December: “Meh.”
January-March: “UGH.”
March-April: “GET. OUT.”

Mitchell: Very quickly, but actually very late. I seemed to be one of the few left come the Champions League exit who still believed that Moyes might just come good with another summer and some reconfiguration within the squad. Something did eventually twig inside of me that brought the apologies to a close, but part of me still wonders what he would have done given his big ‘vision’ for the club. It’s perhaps a blessing that we’ll never truly know.

Stretford_End: I thought he was the wrong choice and it was ludicrous not to have an interview process for the job. It was an uninspiring choice but you back it. The football was dire and his leadership qualities (in press conferences) were questionable. Many blamed the players, many blamed the manager – lets be honest, it was the wrong choice from Sir Alex Ferguson.

Sleepy Nik: Behind him at first; then quickly understood the mesmeric mistake that it was – within the first 10 games actually.

10) Going into the season, what should we expect from United’s rivals – ie. the six teams that finished above us in the table?

Sleepy Nik: I expect them all to keep wishing that we finally ‘fall’. Just isn’t going to happen.

Mitchell: Not much difference to be honest. Chelsea will be stronger than last season and should be considered favourites to win the title, but you’d expect Arsenal and Liverpool to be on par with their recent efforts; the loss of Suarez won’t be as impactful as people may expect. Everton and Tottenham could be slight variables as Everton enjoyed a honeymoon period with Roberto Martinez, whilst Spurs continue their manager merry-go-round. I just can’t see any other team slipping into the top 7 mix, so I imagine there won’t be much of a shake-up. I can only hope that we’re strong enough to force Arsenal or Liverpool out of the Champions League places, but that will be easier said than done.

Karate Jesus:
Chelsea – How the Glazer’s must kick themselves that they went with Moyes over Mourinho. Might not always be pretty but he’s built a far better team than they had 12 months ago and, given sales, at very little cost. Luiz, Mata, Lukaku out, for example, for more money than the cost of Fabregas, Matic, Costa, Luis and Willian. They should really have won the title last year but threw terrible points away against Villa and Palace. Big favourites this time round, for me.

City – As touched upon before, I’d have some concerns with regard fitness of Kompany and Aguero and they’ll need happy camper Yaya to be on the same kind of form he showed last season. Jovetic has looked bright in pre-season and they still have good quality throughout but I don’t think they are as good as other people think. Time will tell but I’d be genuinely surprised if the win either the league or the CL.

Arsenal – Obviously, the addition of Sanchez and Ozil in the space of twelve months, and true arrival of Ramsey, have given their attacking options a major boost. Still short of a top striker (although if all are fit, can see Sanchez or Walcott playing as the furthest forward) and you still look at their squad and feel it is devoid of leadership and nous. Doubt they will win the league and like so many others, difficult to call between 2nd and 5th.

Liverpool Will of course miss Mr Bitey, who despite being a grade A cunt, was devastating last season. I’ve got them down for 5th but, again, that’s with no great certainty and I certainly don’t think they’ll fall away easily. You have to think, though, that last season was their big chance of finally winning the league. Thank fuck they didn’t, is all I have to say about that. THANK FUCK.

Everton / Spurs – So difficult for either to break into top four, although I’d suggest Spurs have the better chance as there is far greater room for improvement there than there is for Everton. I’ll go out on a limb and say they will finish 7th and 6th, respectively.

El Rob: Click here.


Chelsea – Title favourites. The little horse Jockey will have no excuses if indeed they go off course on the homestretch.
Manchester City – Will be title contenders, but I feel Chelsea will be too strong this season.
Arsenal – Great signing in Sanchez and the developing talents of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere will be key.
Liverpool – As Spurs found out last season, it can be ridiculously difficult to replace your best player. European Cup will be a distraction as well.
Everton – Will be hard to repeat performance of last season, but in Ross Barkley they have a potential World Class talent.
Spurs – I like Mauricio Pochettino and think he did a great job at Southampton – but with Spurs, who knows?

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