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I’m sure Manchester United fans need no reminding of last season’s misgivings.

In an appointment that promised so much but delivered so little, the ‘chosen one’ David Moyes arrived from Everton as Sir Alex Ferguson’s scouted replacement.

Where can Manchester United expect to finish?But with all chances of silverware gone, doubts of even achieving any form of European football, and with a remarkably below average mid-table finish looking more and more likely, Moyes was removed from the managerial helm and replaced by club legend Ryan Giggs as interim manager. United eventually finished 7th, 8 points behind Europa League qualification and 15 points behind the Champions League play-offs. So as the highly regarded and newly appointed Louis van Gaal begins his pre-season preparations, where can we expect the Red Devils to finish come the end of the season?

Van Gaal’s debut season in the Premier League

As we know, Louis van Gaal makes his Premier League bow at Old Trafford on August 16th, in an early 12.45pm kick-off against Swansea. All eyes from league rivals to the international footballing world will be watching his progress to try and gain an insight as to his tactics, his favoured players and chosen style of play. His lack of Premier League experience (and potentially knowledge) will most likely swing both ways throughout the course of the season, from the possible success through unpredictability, to the inevitable failings in judging an opponent wrong and tasting defeat. But despite all that, if you’re a good enough manager, you’ll endure more of the former than the latter. For a manager to come in who has just guided his home nation to a third place finish at this years World Cup – not to mention a man who can boast a combination of Champions League, Eredivisie, Bundesliga and La Liga, and honours with Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively – I expect him to possess enough tactical nous and European managerial experience to construct a winning formula with the resources and players that he has.

No European football

With United playing no part in any European football campaign this year, I would expect them to display an immense focus to get back to the top of the Premier League. They will have the extra time to train and prepare for league matches, and will be able to keep their key players fresher with a less intense calendar of fixtures. This should serve as an advantage over their title chasing rivals, with local rivals Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea all competing in midweek fixtures around Europe this coming season. These teams have shown in past seasons that players can show signs of fatigue and tiredness coming back from these fixtures, and that could play right into the hands of a waiting Manchester United.

Focus on domestic competitions

With no European campaign as explained, United will be expected to make the most of their domestic title hopes, starting with the Football League Cup and FA Cup. As well as taking the chance to rotate the squad and blood youngsters, the proposition of achieving a domestic treble should be a very attractive, and still very achievable, season objective and nothing would make a bigger statement of a United revival than that. Not to mention, the extra tournament money that they will receive to try and recuperate the money lost from their surprise absence from European competition.

The current squad

New manager van Gaal will have to make a big decision of who in his squad has done enough to don the shirt next season, after a disastrous 2013/14 season. Having stated to the media that all the players will be given a chance to impress during their pre-season action, that includes a tour of the USA to play LA Galaxy and take part in an International Champions Cup against Roma, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. Games like these should show who has the fight, desire and quality to nail down the trust of van Gaal and those all important regular squad places.

Players such as de Gea, Rooney, van Persie, Carrick, Nani, Rafael, and Valencia amongst others form a current squad of which at least half of its personnel featured in Sir Alex Ferguson’s and United 2012/13 title winning seasons squad, which is only two years ago. Therefore van Gaal is inheriting players that when are when playing to their best, capable of winning the Barclays Premier League. He will need a good nucleus of experience to recapture that glory this time around, but a handful of players including Nani were far from their best last season, and could be facing the exit door if van Gaal decides to make further recruits.

New signings

To date, Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera and Southampton’s Luke Shaw have already been acquired ahead of the new season, costing in the region of £60million. Taking up positions in centre midfield and at left back respectively, their price tags alone suggest that these are big players that possess the quality to bring the Premier League title back to Old Trafford. When fit, I’d expect to see Michael Carrick partner Herrera in midfield. And with Alex Buttner already gone, and with Patrice Evra looking destined for Juventus, Luke Shaw goes straight in as the number one choice at left-back.

With Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand gone, United should be looking for a big name centre half to plug the gap there, as well as securing cover for Shaw at left back. With Antonio Valencia seemingly being moulded into a right back, and Bebe (unsurprisingly) on his way out, the remaining wide options at van Gaal’s disposal consist of Adnan Januzaj, Ashley Young, Wilfried Zaha and Nani. With Young spending a lot of time on the sidelines, and Nani going off the boil the last couple of seasons, I’d be tempted not to pile pressure on United’s promising young guns, and sign up another winger. Valencia of course and even Juan Mata and Shinji Kagawa, can fill in there if required. But the latter two I’d like to see in more advanced attacking midfield roles.

United’s centre of midfield isn’t as solid as it used to be. With Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher spending a lot of time injured, Marouane Fellaini and Tom Cleverley had very average seasons last term. Herrera’s arrival is a start towards putting things right. Linking up with Mata and Kagawa ahead of him, perhaps in central attacking midfield positions, balances the defensive and creative alike to provide Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie the service they need to score goals. They will no doubt be the chosen striking partnership.

If not in attacking midfield play maker role, Rooney has to be pushed up front. Other striking options to him and RVP at this point include Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck before looking to the youth ranks. On the one hand I think their options are OK, but OK isn’t going to get you to the top. One more striker (which would have to be a big name), should provide United will all the firepower they need.

Verdict

Manchester United have a big opportunity this season to make an impact. A manager with a proven track record of European success, alongside a one-off chance to focus on domestic progress is almost the clean slate and fresh start that the Red Devils need. In depth analysis from top to bottom of the club’s playing and coaching staff is well underway, and I’d expect a few more ins and outs to occur yet before the transfer window slams shut. They have quality there, they just need a manager and a system that gets the best out of them. I see no reason why van Gaal can’t mastermind that, and hit back this season with a vengeance.

What do you think? Can van Gaal mastermind a turnaround in fortunes at Old Trafford?

Originally published at cravingfootball.co.uk

Post written by Ian Gurney, Twitter: @Ian_Gurney
for Craving Football, Blog: cravingfootball.co.uk, Twitter: @cravingfootball

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