Manchester United Season Preview

man unitedThe Football Lab interviewed Manchester United fan Aran Sohal, ahead of the new season. You can follow him on Twitter @AranSohal

Louis Van Gaal has had a full summer to concentrate on Manchester United, unlike last year, when he spent a lot of the time managing Holland at the World Cup. With better preparation, can we expect United to start the season stronger than they did last year?

You would expect so. Last season he arrived fairly late, and with any new manager, it takes time to settle in and get your ideas across. Louis van Gaal is unique in the sense he has a very rigid and thorough “philosophy” which he expects the entire club to follow. That, and the tactical changes to formation he kept making, caused us to have a very slow and uninspiring start. This season, you can see he has full control and has done things his own way. We also have a proper tactical plan and a way of playing that bared fruit towards the back end of last season. New players arriving means they can fit in seamlessly and know what is expected of them. In terms of our pre-season tour, less travelling and commercial activities mean we look set to start the season well, fingers crossed!

Manchester United’s summer has been filled with speculation surrounding the future of goalkeeper David De Gea. Do you think he will leave? If so, are you happy with Victor Valdes as first choice keeper?

We have always experienced our best players being linked with moves away, especially to Real Madrid. Their way of dealing with transfers is to unsettle players and we’ve had our fair share in the past. I think he will actually stay and join next summer on a free transfer. We’ve now signed Sergio Romero, and I can see him being number one, if De Gea leaves. But I would prefer us to buy a better, younger goalkeeper. Someone like Bernd Leno would be my choice.

Antonio Valencia does not look strong enough defensively to play at right-back, while Rafael has struggled in recent times. Are you pleased with the signing of Matteo Darmian?

I am extremely pleased with the signing of Matteo Darmian; he was my number one choice for that position. He has been the best full-back in Italy for the past two seasons, and he is a quiet, assuming lad. He is also determined, and very good defensively, just as you would expect an Italian to be! But he can also go forward well, something that MUFC has been used to with their full-backs. Right-back was an important position to fill and I think we now have someone more solid and reliable there.

Van Gaal was unable to establish a settled centre-back pairing last season. Is it important for defenders to form partnerships this season? Which two would you pick?

If we are to challenge for the title, it is vital we have two centre-backs who form a partnership and a cohesion at the back with the goalkeeper. Attackers win you games, but defences win you titles. One reason we didn’t do better last season was due to the chopping and changing at the back. Personally, I would play Smalling alongside Jones but I expect the pairing to be Smalling and Rojo. Louis van Gaal seems to like the balance of a left-footer in the left-centre-back position.

Daley Blind played in 4 different positions last season. Which do you think is his best one?

He excelled at left-back when utilising for Luke Shaw, but I think he is better suited in midfield. His intelligence allows him to play anywhere though. He is a great player to have in the squad because of that versatility and he often can fit in seamlessly. I seem to remember last season fans were scared Lamela & Sterling would expose his lack of pace, but he kept both quiet and the team produced two of their best performances of the season. He played a part.

Manchester United only won 8 out of a possible 22 league games that Michael Carrick did not start last season, which suggest you relied on him too heavily. Was it important for the club to sign Bastien Schweinsteiger?

Michael Carrick is very important to the team, so it was important we signed a midfielder or two who could play his role. We needed a midfielder who could dictate a game and dominate a midfield, and Schweinsteiger is that type. We have signed a world-class midfielder who still has a lot to offer. He can still impose himself on a game and will be used in conjunction with Carrick. The experience he brings will also help us, as our squad age has dropped considerably over the past couple of years.

Morgan Schneiderlin joins from Southampton. Having spent part of his career in the lower leagues, do you feel he is somebody who will offer that hunger and energy in midfield?

Morgan Schneiderlin has been one of the stand-out midfielders in the league for the past few years. He has been linked with moves away and I am delighted he joined United. He is just the type of midfielder we have lacked since Owen Hargreaves. He is not just your conventional defensive midfielder, but he can also pass and play. He is dynamic and will offer us a different option there.

Some argue that Angel Di Maria is at his best in central midfield, but the signings of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin suggest he won’t play there. Where do you see him fitting in?

I don’t see him fitting in anywhere to be totally honest. I think he has failed to settle, and even though he showed glimpses of his ability, he will probably leave. It is a shame because he is a world-class player but I do not think he has the mentality to succeed at United and give it another go. It seems he has his heart set on a move to Paris.

Some might say that Manchester United’s main difficulty last season was creating chances, rather than taking them. To what extent will the signing of Memphis Depay address this problem?

Considerably. He scores goals and creates and has electrifying pace. It is something we have lacked and it is another dimension to our attack. He is a great addition and has so much potential too. It will be interesting to see where he plays though. United are used to pacey wingers but he might play in behind Rooney, where he has done in pre-season. Van Gaal has also hinted at him being played as a striker, so it will be intriguing to see where he actually fits in.

Midfielder Ander Herrera put in some strong performances in the final few weeks of last season, most notably against Aston Villa and Arsenal. Do you feel he is the type of player that needs to be given the freedom to roam?

Ander Herrera was a welcomed addition to the team, and we found that we created more and seemed more energetic with him in the side. He keeps things ticking, whilst also making runs into the box and joining attacks. I think if he was given a free role, we would be left slightly exposed. He also does a lot defensively and without the ball, so keeping him within limits would get the best out of him. If we expected him to get forward more, for instance, I think we would lose the controlling aspect of his game.

You’ve got a shortage of strikers at the moment, with Falcao and Van Persie having left, and Hernandez out of favour. Is there potential for James Wilson to make his mark on the team?

James Wilson has incredible potential and everyone is excited to see the impact he could have this season. He has raw pace and can really finish too, as we have seen consistently in the U21’s. He will be given chances, and with us looking very light up front, he could make a big impact. He is very young and raw though, so some patience will be needed. But he could play a part this season, definitely.

Manchester United do not have a target man in their squad at the moment. However, is there a case to be made that Marouane Fellaini could be surprisingly effective as an impact substitute?

We saw Fellaini playing further forward last season, and really making a nuisance of himself. Because of his presence, he was used in a more attacking role and we were more direct, and it seemed a quick and easy route to applying pressure to opposition. I can see a similar role for him this season, where he is used in an advanced attacking role, or maybe even as a secondary striker. He has the physical attributes but he can also finish, and doesn’t get the praise he is due for the technical skills he possesses.

Manchester United aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the new Premier League season as a whole? Who do you think will do well? Which teams might struggle?

I am extremely excited. I just want it to start. I am looking forward to seeing how the top four get on and how the title race unfolds. Bournemouth is a great story and I admire Eddie Howe, so I hope they do well. You’ve also got the teams who want to break into the top four again; Liverpool, Tottenham, Everton & Southampton have all had decent transfer windows so far too. My home-town Leicester have a new manager too, so will be good to see him back in England. I think Stoke will do very well, they will be the seasons surprise package. I think West Ham will struggle though. Slaven Bilic is a good manager but its a club with huge aspirations, and they would need to build on last season.

Where will you finish?

I hope we give a good go at the title. Winning it would be fantastic, and anything less after what we have spent, would be deemed a failure. I don’t want to make predictions, but if I was pushed, I would say we will finish 2nd!

The Football Lab’s Verdict

It has taken them a while, but Manchester United are finally adapting to the post-Fergie era. They quietly grew in confidence last season, and some of last summer’s costly recruits may be better for having had a year to settle in. Morgan Schneiderlin will be a key signing. 2nd

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