COMMENT: The youngster launched his Premier League career with two fine goals against Sunderland last October, but life is different under the club's new Dutch coach
By Sam Lee
As Manchester United have become acutely aware in the last week, pre-season form does not necessarily guarantee Premier League pedigree.
But as they head to the Stadium of Light looking to get their campaign off and running against Sunderland, they will be reminded of how Adnan Januzaj delivered on his promising off-season form to devastating effect just under one year ago.
As the first signs of cracks in David Moyes' Manchester United appeared last October, the Scot handed a first start to Januzaj, who had caught the imagination of fans in pre-season but had been limited to cameo league appearances.
On the back of a defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and West Brom, United were trailing to the Black Cats when Januzaj stepped up to score two first-class goals, the second a left-footed volley which alone seemed to earn him a nomination for Young Sports Personality of the Year and a bumper five-year contract.
Although a David de Gea save was touted as a turning point in United’s season during that match, the campaign only got worse.
Alongside De Gea, Januzaj was one of the undoubted stars of the season and was duly signed up by the voracious Doyen Sports management group, but even he struggled for game time after January as Moyes shunted new boy Juan Mata into the line-up.
But Moyes was a huge fan of the youngster, repeatedly hailing him as the best technical player in the squad, backing him over Wilfried Zaha and making sure he was offered attractive financial terms to keep him at Old Trafford.
Januzaj, perhaps unsurprisingly, was in turn one of the only players not to turn against the under-fire manager as the season unravelled.
*Stats from 2013-14 Premier League
But despite being handed United’s iconic No.11 shirt following Ryan Giggs’ retirement, things are very different this summer.
Although Louis van Gaal may not be so wedded to the idea of a 3-5-2 after the Swansea defeat, the new formation begs the question of just where Januzaj fits into the Dutchman’s plans.
While it has seemingly not been a stumbling block for Ashley Young, Januzaj’s defensive game is not currently strong enough to fulfil the duties required of a wing-back, and Luke Shaw has been signed for £30m to play on the left in any case.
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And as United frantically go in search of new signings in the last knockings of the transfer window, with further talks for Fiorentina's Juan Cuadrado planned, his group of representatives are known to be concerned.
"With the full-backs intended to be pushed on in a 3-5-2 and with Valencia also in the mix, another wide player will only reduce his chances of playing," a source close to the player revealed.
And whereas Moyes would shower the youngster with praise, there are none of the rave reviews from Van Gaal or his coaches around Carrington these days.
This does not mean that there is no future for Januzaj at Old Trafford, or that he is being marginalised. He was carefully chosen as the man to inherit Giggs’ No.11 and all the pressure that comes with it, and the club believe he can become one of their biggest, most marketable stars.
"Adnan has the style and ability to uphold the standard set by Ryan Giggs, not to mention the confidence," a senior club figure told Goal.
And far from being singled out by coaches, all of the players are currently keeping their head down at Carrington, avoiding any monkey business and getting on with training as they look to impress Van Gaal and his men.
Januzaj's late return from the World Cup has also seen him fall behind the majority of his team-mates, who had the benefit of travelling the United States and training twice a day to try to get used to the new methods.
Van Gaal used those five friendlies in the States to run the rule over his players, though he probably learned more in 90 minutes at Old Trafford, so it seems Januzaj’s crucial period is just around the corner.
With Van Gaal asking his assistant Giggs about the youngsters at his disposal, just as he did at Bayern Munich and Barcelona as he unearthed likes of Thomas Muller and Andres Iniesta, he will have no doubt been told exactly how promising Januzaj is.
Given yet more transfer market travails and mounting injury problems, the stage is set for Januzaj to shine once again at the Stadium of Light.