As another pre-season comes to an end, we’ll have to try and guess what’s in Van Gaal’s head for the season ahead. The main developments concerning squad selection haven’t been entirely positive, however: Wayne Rooney looks like he might be our main striker, and Daley Blind looks like he might be converted to a centre-back. But there’s plenty of other things to be learned about where United are in 2015, and what’s to be done for the future. Here are three of them.
Michael Carrick’s United career is coming to an end
Pour yourself a whisky in sorrow or celebrating, depending on which side of the divide you fall on. Michael Carrick, who is either the English Pirlo and the English Busquets rolled into one or a useless lightweight who bottles every big game, will probably be reduced to a bit-part player this year. Morgan Schneiderlin will probably take his place, and even if he’s not available, there’s Schweinsteiger and Fellaini to fit in.
Even if you’re a Carrick fan, this should probably be considered a good thing. No matter how much you rate him, it’s very difficult to argue that he should be starting ahead of Schneiderlin or Schweinsteiger – there isn’t anything he does better. United should be more robust, and have a less exposed defence and a more solid platform to build attacks from. They should be a lot less unpredictable, in other words, but in a good way.
This team is the opposite of the one before it
For a long time, United fans were craving a midfield.. Something, anything. Someone who could tackle, or pass, or run a bit, or maybe just even stand there and not fall over if anyone ran into him. Three cones, that’ll do.
It turns out you should maybe be careful what you wish for. Marouane Fellaini came, and Juan Mata followed, and a lot changed. Neither really seemed to fit, there was a lack of a coherent plan, and both ended up being moved further and further forward. Then came Ander Herrera, and when Louis van Gaal finally became the last man on earth to realise he should probably be starting, things got a bit better. Now, we have Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, which should give us a flexible midfield with plenty of options, guile, creativity, strength, power and steel.
The problem is that United were able to be successful despite having no midfield at all because we still had the last truly great back four, or at least the fumes of it, and a rotating cast of clinial strikers and effective wingers. The midfield has been sorted, but the defence and frontline have been left to rot, so while a game is now more easily controlled, there will probably be fewer chances, fewer of them finished, and a lot more daft goals given away. Which one will be more effective? We’ll have to see. One positive at least is that it’s possible to envision us spending the money necessary to improve the dodgy bits, something that looked vanishingly unlikely in the late Fergie era.
The team still a long way from completion
Without a robust defence or strong frontline, and in truth, perhaps very few of the components for either, and with a midfield that is solid but hardly world-class, United look a long, long way from being at the level of the class of 1999 or 2008, despite already spending far more than either of those teams cost. It would be easy to blame Van Gaal for that, and he undoubtedly deserves a portion of responsibility for such a low return on such a high investment, but there are other factors at work.
Ed Woodward’s pursuit of big-name signings at the expense of a proper examination of whether they fit or not deserves a lot of scrutiny, as does his failure to recruit anyone of worth in David Moyes’ debut transfer window. Part of the reason United have spent so extravagantly without signing anyone world class is due to the poor availability of players. There simply aren’t any available top-tier strikers or defenders who United could move for now – the loosening of the Glazer purse-strings and the discovery of Eddy’s competence have been poorly-timed.
A perfect storm has led to United having to spend incredible amounts of money to get a good-but-not-great team, but aside from the likes of Shaw, Depay, and possibly Darmian, there’s been a lack of imagination. Too many players who are known to be just about good enough but not world class or with the potential to be so have been bought. That’s Van Gaal’s fault. The problem is that his alternative options were hugely limited, which he couldn’t do anything about. His abilities as manager will have to see him get the most out of a flawed team, just as Alex Ferguson continually did.