BY BRENDON NETTO | Follow @BrendonNetto
For most of last season and particularly after 3-0 home defeats to their fiercest rivals Manchester City and Liverpool in March, Manchester United supporters longed for the very thing they dreaded the most at the end of the previous campaign – change.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement bred anxiety and fear of the unknown among their fans. Every alteration made by his successor David Moyes was scrutinized, however miniscule. The club nor the new manager quite adapted to each other and a dismal 7th place league finish and trophyless campaign (barring the Community Shield) ensued.
However, Moyes wasn’t the only one who looked certain to make for the exit at Old Trafford. A host of players were deemed unworthy of donning the famous red jersey. The general consensus was that the first team squad had gone stale, desperately lacked quality in key areas and needed an almighty overhaul.
Newspapers splashed stories about United making a £200 million war-chest available for the new manager to spend on what was to be a massive rebuilding project over the summer as their chief executive Ed Woodward lined up one sponsorship deal after another.
Pundits insisted that drastic changes in personnel was the only way forward for the team while fans nodded in approval, urging their beloved club to move swiftly even before the transfer window officially opened. Looking back at it now, it’s starting to seem like major surgery on the squad would have been a radical step.
The notion that United needed a complete revamp was of course understandable considering the giants of English football went from winning the league by a landslide in the previous campaign to struggling in mid-table mediocrity.
However, after guiding a modest looking Netherlands team to third place in the World Cup, Louis Van Gaal has shown that United have much more quality than they exhibited last season. A change in system and philosophy has got the side’s best players thriving in their favourite positions while some of those who seemed doomed have also found ways to come back into the fray.
Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia have proven more than useful as wing-backs despite their underwhelming displays further forward last season even if the likes of Nani and Wilfried Zaha haven’t followed suit yet. Darren Fletcher is getting fitter every day and has been a central figure in pre-season.
The departures of Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand coupled with the switch to a system that uses three center-backs has opened new avenues for Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Meanwhile, with two strikers required to start in the 3-4-1-2 formation, the likes of Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez are set to be more involved.
Of course, one can never accurately determine a team’s progress from their pre-season results but in United’s case the sheer contrast to their preparations last summer is too huge to completely ignore. They won just two of their seven fixtures largely against lowly Asian opposition last year and the performances left much to be desired.
This time around, they’ve conquered the likes of LA Galaxy, AS Roma, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Liverpool, scoring 16 goals and conceding just 4 in the process. They didn’t always dominated proceedings but to come away with five wins from as many games against tough opposition is not something that can be brushed aside or disregarded.
In fact, United have been unrecognizable in pre-season from the team that was painstakingly laborious with their passing and sluggish in their movement under Moyes only a few months ago. What’s particularly eye-opening is that apart from Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, Van Gaal has worked with pretty much the same group of players for only a few weeks.
Despite being linked with hundreds of player at the start of the summer, it now seems as if United may require just one or two more before the window closes. Interestingly, Van Gaal has hinted that they may not need more signings at all after being impressed with the way the current personnel have come to grips with the new system.
|"We have got a month to go still, and we are winning everything - maybe we don’t need other players."
- Van Gaal
Ideally, the recruitment of another central midfielder and center-back would, at least within this system, render United fully equipped for the upcoming season. There’s a long way to go before they scale the lofty heights they unceremoniously fell from and their real test lies ahead but considering where they were before their Dutch tactician arrived, they’re definitely ahead of the curve now.
|How many more signings do United need to make this summer? Leave your comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.|
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