What is there to say about Manchester United that hasn’t already been said? In the last 60 years, United have overcome grave adversity, been relegated with the likes of George Best in the side, been through trophy-less times and then risen back up to the peak of European football. The last two seasons have been a disappointment when compared with the riches brought by Sir Alex Ferguson, but now, under Louis van Gaal, the greatest side in English football history are on the mend.
The disappointment which followed the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson needs no regurgitation, but what does need to be remembered is that Louis van Gaal’s fourth-placed finish in 2014/15 was in line with the objectives he and the board had set. Whilst reaching the play-off round of Champions League qualifying is not a trophy, it is a stepping stone and Van Gaal is taking United in the right direction.
Rebuilding thoroughly in order to compile the strength in depth to challenge on four fronts in 2015/16 has seen the back of Tom Cleverley, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao amongst many others.
However, these departures mean arrivals too; the incoming players are mouth-wateringly talented and will certainly see the Red Devils push Chelsea harder. The men in question are Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger; a mixture of incredible potential, solidarity and trophy-winning experience – so where will they fit in?
Just 25 years of age, Darmian arrived from Torino with the ability to play at left-back, centre-back and on either wing as well as in his favoured right-back role. With Rafael’s agent having said that the out-of-favour Brazilian is almost certain to leave, Darmian’s only real competition at right-back will be Antonio Valencia.
The season of 2010/11 in which Valencia was unplayable as a right midfielder feels like a distant memory, and he has spent the last two campaigns as a makeshift right-back, where he has been at times, thoroughly excellent and brilliant to watch, but on other occasions an absolute disaster. Darmian, despite his youth, is one of the best right-backs in the world so it is fairly safe to assume that he will make the spot his own.
Memphis Depay, likewise, should have no trouble in securing a place in Louis van Gaal’s starting XI. A flamboyant but direct, strong but delicate player, he is one of the very best young players in the world and has already drawn comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo in his style of player and potential. He is the signing most fans are excited to see, because he brings an unpredictable element to attacks, but without the much-lamented inconsistency of Nani, who has joined Fenerbahce this summer. Depay may start the season as a second striker, as Wayne Rooney and James Wilson are the only frontmen available to Van Gaal, but the young Dutch prospect is more than capable in that department, having finished the Eredivisie season as the league’s top scorer.
Here comes the juggernaut however – Bastian Schweinsteiger. I cannot put into words my feelings of excitement and anticipation to see him play for United. A true hero of the modern era, ‘Basti’, as he is also known, has won the lot. He was the last player to score a Champions League goal at Old Trafford, which is both a fun and seriously frustrating statistic – whether he will be the next to do so is something I wait to find out eagerly. I have grown up with Schweinsteiger, in that, when he made his breakthrough I was six years old – his signing has been a long time coming and it’s something I’ve been waiting to see for two thirds of my life, so you can only imagine my reaction when I heard the news, standing in a field in Scotland, mud from head to toe, three days into this year’s T in the Park festival. Scenes.
He’ll have to compete with Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini and Daley Blind for a deep-lying midfield spot, but the German is a workhorse, an engine – he will surely be the rock we have been looking for since the departure of Roy Keane.
United’s midfield is now an embarrassment of riches – and I left one competitor out of that list of Schweinsteiger’s potential midfield partners – Morgan Schneiderlin. Despite long-term interest from Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, the Frenchman chose Old Trafford, and what a choice that could prove to be. Whilst he will have to work hard for a place, he could be a hidden gem almost, much in the vein of Michael Carrick, and provide solidarity and fluidity to the midfield for many years to come.
I imagine that Louis van Gaal will opt for a 4-5-1 formation in most games this season, so as to allow for three central midfielders behind Wayne Rooney – however the possible acquisition of Nicolas Otamendi could see the return of the 3-5-2 formation.
No matter what the system, I am incredibly confident that Manchester United will win a trophy in 2015/16. Strength in depth can win titles and with players who impressed last season such as Young and Fellaini now strong candidates to be benched, I have a vast amount of faith in our capabilities. Smalling is a marvellous defender who is finally finding his feet and De Gea looks to be staying for at least one more year – so who knows what we could achieve?