Forgotten Manchester United stars can revive their careers under Van Gaal

Ashley Young, Shinji Kagawa and Darren Fletcher all impressed as the Old Trafford club beat Real Madrid on Saturday, with the Dutchman offering his squad a clean slate
By Alex Moretto in Ann Arbor

Prior to Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Real Madrid on Saturday, Louis van Gaal suggested the need for further summer signings may not be as great as has been anticipated.

"We still have a month to go [before the close of the transfer window] and we are winning," he said. "Maybe we don't need other players.

"First I want to see the players who I have and give them an honest chance."

Several of those players appear to have grabbed that chance with both hands. The likes of Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher and Shinji Kagawa look rejuvenated in the new 3-4-3 system employed by Van Gaal, and impressed in the pre-season win over Madrid in Michigan.

The Dutchman's arrival seems to have injected confidence in Young, who has been on the periphery of the Old Trafford starting XI. The former Aston Villa winger, who cost United €20 million in June 2011, made just 13 Premier League starts under David Moyes last season.

Van Gaal showed plenty of confidence in Young, asking him to adopt an unfamiliar wing-back role in his new system. The 29-year-old flourished on Saturday, scoring his third and fourth pre-season goals. The relief of having stated a strong case for his Old Trafford future was evident when he spoke to the media after the game.

"Everyone wants to be a part of the future," Young said. "Last season was a disappointment and a write-off, but everybody has bought into the new philosophy of the manager and you see everyone wants to get on the ball. Everybody attacks together and defends together and works as a unit."

PERIPHERAL FIGURE | Young was on the fringes under David Moyes

Buoyed by the good faith shown to him by Van Gaal - if only in pre-season - Young is relishing the opportunity to get another crack at breaking into the first team, even if that does mean converting to wing-back.

He said: "It's one of the things a manager calls upon you to do. It's not a position I have played before, but I'm enjoying it. There are a lot more defensive duties, but I'm clever and I've got a good footballing brain that tells me where I have to be on the pitch."

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Fletcher's performances have also been encouraging. After a long spell out of football, owing to the effects of ulcerative colitis, the Scot has re-emerged fully fit and as one of the elder statesmen of the squad at 30 following the departures of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.

"I feel fitter and stronger," Fletcher said. "I'm back in the gym, I'm getting a pre-season and I'm feeling the benefits from that so I want it to continue.

"We have got fantastic team spirit. We were talking about it last night amongst ourselves, we're all close, heading in the right direction and want the best for Manchester United. We realise some experienced players have gone so it's up to us to come together and get us back there."

Entering his 14th season with the club, Fletcher has worked tirelessly in midfield during pre-season, forming a strong partnership with new signing Ander Herrera. His performance against Madrid was superb and included a lovely one-two with Wayne Rooney to set up the opening goal.

"We're enjoying ourselves," Fletcher continued. "The manager expects a lot from us and I think we're answering that. He thinks we have the ability to do it and he demands a lot, but the players are responding and enjoying the new system and playing under him."

Kagawa, meanwhile, appears invigorated in the new system. Playing behind a three-man attack has given the Japanese playmaker more freedom, which he made the most of on Saturday as a substitute, delivering a brilliant pass to set up Chicharito's goal.

Of course, four pre-season games do not determine a season. There is still plenty of work to be done behind the scenes and Van Gaal could yet supplement his squad.

But there may still be a future for the likes of Young and Kagawa at Old Trafford.