Manchester United have had a mediocre season. Louis Van Gaal’s maiden season at the club had a shaky start, what with losing 2–1 at home to Swansea City, marking Swansea’s first league win at Old Trafford in the club’s history. There have been certain highlights to this season though – the wins against Chelsea and Liverpool and Manchester City being prime examples. They have another game left with Hull City and will finish this season in the 4th place, which is an improvement from the 7th place finish last season. Let’s look at certain changes the club could possibly make to be title contenders next season.
United is a club that has always been known for their strong attacking play, under Sir Alex. Louis Van Gaal, on the other hand, believes in slowly building up possession to mount pressure on the opponents and then orchestrating chances for scoring goals. For such a tactic to work, there needs to be a strong central midfield. The trio of Carrick/Herrera/Fellaini has been working very well and has dominated the midfield in almost every game. If it continues, it wouldn’t be advisable to change it. Yet we’re continuously linked with more midfielders. Fellaini would probably be the first name to get changed, with a more dynamic powerful midfielder, like Pogba.
Mata is in excellent form, 2 goals against Liverpool, one against City, an assist against Villa. Four excellent performances in a row. If he keeps that up, there isn’t much chances of LVG thinking of replacing him.
Based on the current form, the only improvement that must be made is in the area of defence. There is Smalling and Rojo, who have been solid. In fact, they could possibly be the third best defence in the league. In some matches, the defence faltered. However, the best display of Manchester United’s defence was showcased in the match against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Next season, there will be more than enough games to alternate between Mata and Depay. With the Champions League and the other cup games, Van Gaal wouldn’t want to burn out any of the players. Hence, they must look to bring in quality this window. It’ll be near impossible to snatch Varane away from Real Madrid though. Laporte can serve as a replacement as a young centre-back on a similar level like Varane, but his high buy-out clause might end up being the deal breaker. Van Gaal must definitely get one solid centre-back, a strong defensive midfielder (we may need some brawn in some CL and cup games), central midfielder (out of luxury rather than a necessity) and a proven striker (if we let Falcao, Chicha and RVP go).
Manchester United must not let David De Gea go at any cost. He has been instrumental in most of the club’s wins this season and is a true asset to the team. As seen in the game against Arsenal, Victor Valdes still has a long way to go before he does his job right.
Comparisons have been drawn between Jose Mourinho’s performance and Louis Van Gaal’s performance this season. The thing to note is that Mourinho knows how the league works, whereas it was Van Gaal’s first stint here and a top 4 finish is good enough. He has had the time to understand how it works and it is expected off him to deliver next season.
“It’s not a question of how big or how many numbers of players, it’s how the balance is. When you have, for every position, two equal levelled players, then I’m happy,” he said at the Player of the Year Awards when asked what is required this close season to make United serious contenders. The only major threat is the possible departure of David De Gea. United must retain him at any cost, or look to sign a goal keeper who is top class. Hugo Lloris from Tottenham could be considered a replacement, in that case.
The key would be to recruit a good number of quality players such as a midfielder: Paul Pogba of Juventus would be suitable. A right-back: there have been reports of Everton’s Séamus Coleman being considered. A central defender: the prime target being Mats Hummels (although his pace could prove to be a problem). A good striker: Harry Kane is one under consideration. Also, if Gareth Bale can be obtained, this would turn out to be a clear game-changer.
There has to be an adjustment in the famous Van Gaal tactic as well. As mentioned above, Sir Alex was all about attacking and that was enough to instill terror even in the most formidable of opponents. Van Gaal is a lot more cautious and careful in his approach, but he should consider going out and playing on the front foot more. Right now, he seems to be focusing only on building possession, which has lead to a lot of lateral passes among the players. If Van Gaal employs this characteristic, then the side will only be helped further by the arrival of the fleet-footed Memphis Depay.
Another important thing that the players need to focus on, is to be more consistent. They have managed a top 4 finish, but the performances that led up to it were extremely uneven. For example, in the match against Arsenal, United had the upper hand all along, but ended up handing an easy equalizer to the Gunners. After last season’s show under David Moyes, confidence is still a little lacking in few of the players. Here’s to hoping that Wayne Rooney and his men regain the focus they need and go on to become serious title contenders next season!