So here we are my friends, the final game of Manchester United’s 14/15 season as the Reds face the prospect of a relatively meaningless encounter (for us anyway) with Hull City. A seven-goal swing remains unlikely at this stage meaning Louis van Gaal will be forced to settle for fourth place when the dust has settled and the Ducthman’s post-awards hangover has deteriorated.
It’s been a funny kind of season for the Reds, having spent big in the summer may have been expected to challenge for a higher league position, particularly given the boost in form in the season’s second half, but numerous factors, mainly injuries and lack of balance in the squad contributing for United having to eventually settle for fourth place – the minimum requirement for the season.
Van Gaal has regularly spoken of the three-year time frame the board has given him to achieve his objective of the club’s 21st league title and achieving fourth spot and seeing the club return to the Champions League –albeit the qualifying stages of – must be viewed as a success, or step in the right direction at least. Given league positions last month it’s a slight disappointment not to end proceedings third or even second, but then there’s a chance we all got a little caught up in the hype.
The manager, had little time to stamp his authority on the squad or make enough changes to a squad very much in – and I hate this term – ‘transition’. But unquestionably that is what it was, with the club losing leaders in the form of Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra and recovering from what proved to be a fairly traumatic season of 13/14 for both players and supporters.
Van Gaal, in true emphatic (drunken) fashion proved his huge passion and desire at the club’s end of season awards and firmly believes in his ability to continue to see the club progressing further next season – just see the Memphis Depay deal for early evidence of such. Sunday’s trip to the KC allows the Reds to end a season of mixed emotions on a high after another difficult run, despite the implications that may have on poor Steve Bruce.
Here are five keys to a United victory against Hull:
1. Despite meaning nothing to us, desire must outweigh Hull’s
Let’s be honest, we’d all like Steve Bruce to retain his Premier League status, after ‘that goal’ in ’93 as well as being a fantastic servant and captain for the club, nobody would begrudge seeing Brucey in the top flight for another season. However in football, unfortunately there’s just no room for those sorts of niceties.
The Tigers host United knowing that nothing other than three points will do if they are to retain their Premier League status, and even that may not be enough if Newcastle can do the unthinkable a register a win of their own under John Carver.
In 20 attempts as a manager, Brucey has never managed to upset his former employers, but the implications of rolling over and receiving a belly tickle on this occasion are far too severe.
We’ve seen Premier League ‘Great Escapes’ in the past (see another former captain Bryan Robson at West Brom) and Hull will be doing everything in their power to ensure that they’re another etched in history to snatch safety from the ever closing jaws of the drop.
United must remain focused on the job in hand. Louis van Gaal has no personal affiliation with Steve Bruce and doesn’t seem the kind of man to sacrifice any pride even if he did. Defeats to lesser sides such as Swansea, West Brom, Everton and Leicester will hurt the manager, and his close affinity with the fans will mean he’ll want to close out his first campaign the right way.
2. Give Dave a good send off
Ok, it’s not written in stone that De Gea will leave the club this summer, but with no more news of a contract renewal in the pipeline, it look’s as though the Spaniard may be packing his bags and heading home.
It’s a devastating prospect, with the reality being that any replacement – no matter how good – will ultimately be a downgrade on the once scrawny youngster deemed to lightweight to grace the Manchester United net.
Similar to the fact that De Gea’s departure isn’t set in stone, his inclusion in the starting eleven, or even the matchday squad are still a question mark given an injury sustained in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
After a second successive season of picking up the club’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year gong, saving us on countless occasions, the team owe De Gea a huge debt of gratitude. If his mind is made up on leaving, they should send him off with a decent memory. If he’s still undecided, make it very hard for him to walk away.
3. Play with freedom and enjoy ourselves
We’ve enjoyed seeing United enjoying a wealth of possession and control over games in recent months, but unfortunately, the scoreline hasn’t always reflected the overall dominance we’ve had over games, e.g. allowing West Brom to snatch a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford with just 24% possession, or Everton 3-0 with just 37%.
Michael Carrick’s absence has been a significant loss for one, but nevertheless, the team have been unable to create or convert enough clear cut chances, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory quite bafflingly on too many occasions.
With nothing to play for from United’s perspective, Sunday allows the Reds to be a little more creative in their thinking, and the lack of pressure could do wonders for the likes of Angel Di Maria and Adnan Januzaj, both of whom have found themselves facing extended periods on the sidelines and have looked lacking in confidence when opportunities have come their way (see also Falcao).
Injuries will play their part yet again with Shaw still sidelined and De Gea a doubt, but with fourth place beyond doubt, we could see a different approach from United at the KC.
4. Time for a tinker?
With fourth place sewn up, van Gaal has the luxury of being able to experiment with his line-up. While we seem to have found a formation which suits the team and the unlikely figures of Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini highlighting their importance to the manager, some peripheral figures should be given an opportunity before the season closes.
As stated earlier, Di Maria and Januzaj will be keen to impress and could be given the opportunity to do so on either flank. From my perspective, despite Fellaini’s good performances this season, the Belgian has gone a little off the boil in recent week’s and I’d like to see Mata given an opportunity to occupy his position in the hole behind the sole frontman.
James Wilson and Paddy McNair would both be popular choices to come in for the season’s closing match, with Wilson netting a brace against Hull on his debut this time last year and McNair’s maturity earning him particular plaudits in his first campaign. Falcao will almost certainly make his final appearance for United (as could van Persie) and after a difficult season returning from long-term injury, it would be nice to see the Colombian sign off in style.
5. No more unwanted records
If Louis van Gaal’s side lose they will equal the club’s record for most Premier League away defeats in a season: six in 1995-96 and 2003-04.
Last season brought about far too many unwanted records to cope with for the considerable future. No more please.
With nothing resting on the game, it’s difficult even to speculate as to either the line-up for the system and style United will adopt. Despite close club links with Steve Bruce, van Gaal has made it clear that his side will remain professional and look to wrap up the three points on the final day of the season.
Hull will be extremely competitive just as you’d expect any team fighting for Premier League survival to be and therefore it’s hard to envisage the Tigers not scoring. But in the spirit of optimism and wanting to end the season on a high, lets go with a 3-1 United victory.
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