In this edition of SEA View: Jason, David and Alan share their thoughts on the 2014-15 season.
Jason (writer and forum moderator):
Being a United fan born in 1991, I’d never seen United finish out of the top 4 and had rarely seen us finish outside the top 2 so a 7th placed finish last season was a shock to the system. I’d always thought that post-Ferguson we would struggle but not as much as we did. We were spoilt for success for 20 years and last season really brought us all back down to earth I think.
While Moyes came in to the club as a manager who had never won much at all or anything actually, new manager for the 2014-15 season, Louis Van Gaal had won the trophies a United manager is expected to challenge for and win. His CV was quite impressive and the over-achievement of his Dutch side in the Brazil World Cup certainly raised expectations.
Expectations continued to rise during pre-season with 6 wins out of 6 which included a 3-1 win over Champions League winners, Real Madrid in front of nearly 110,000. United were back or so it felt any way, there was a real positive feeling heading into the actual season but optimism soon decreased before a ball was even kicked as Van Gaal announced an injury crisis (a crisis that never really ended) in his press conference the day before the opening game of the season at home to Swansea, the game ended 2-1 to Swansea and it was clear that a lot of work was still be done. After 10 games, we were in 9th on 13 points and looking back it’s quite amazing that there wasn’t more frustration, I seem to remember being quite calm about our situation. I think his track record had a lot to do with that, it was a fact that his starts at his other clubs had been poor too but things improve greatly in time.
A 10 game unbeaten run followed the loss at City but performances were still lacking and we were rather lucky to come away from Arsenal and Southampton with wins but we’d gone from 9th to 3rd, we couldn’t be too unhappy with this, performances would surely improve. Come the New Year, Van Gaal was still undecided about the formation and his selection; questions were asked about why his favoured 4-3-3 wasn’t being used, why he was persisting with 3 at the back, why Rooney was playing in midfield when he was needed more upfront and why Herrera wasn’t playing. Pressure was building from sections of the fan base and media and this only grew as losses to Southampton at home and Swansea away occurred while wins continued to be unconvincing including cup games against Yeovil, Cambridge and Preston. With the cup being the club’s only realistic chance of silverware it had been hoped we would go on to win it, we met Arsenal at home in the quarter finals of the FA Cup, a very disappointing night that ended with Di Maria getting sent off for nudging the ref in a 2-1 loss. The defeat was hard to take and increased pressure on Van Gaal who had also taken fans favourite Herrera off at half time. With games against Spurs, Liverpool, City and Chelsea to come next, things were not looking good for us in terms of reaching our target of a top 4 finish, something needed to change quickly.
And change they did; Spurs up first, I recall a lot of negativity pre-match with many bemoaning the lack of pace in the side, and the first 5 minutes did very little to suggest any improvement was on the cards as Phil Jones very nearly fired in an own goal past De Gea, thankfully he was alert to the poor back pass, saving his team mates blushes, much like he did all season. What came next was fantastic, 3-0 up at half time, joy had returned to Old Trafford and Rooney’s goal celebration based on a video of him getting knocked out while boxing with a mate at his home was fantastic. On to Liverpool and despite the 3-0 win over Spurs, there was still a fair bit of negativity about our chances before the game due to our poor away form during the season. The game was a highlight of the season, for the first time in many years, United had actually decided to turn up at Anfield and played some fantastic football in the first half with Mata scoring the first goal after a fantastic through ball by Herrera, Liverpool came into it at the end of the first half and nearly scored through Lallana which was a big let off for us and costly for Lallana who was replaced at half time by Gerrard. What happened next resulted in hysteric laughter as Gerrard, in his final appearance against United, lasted just 40 seconds before getting sent off. This seemed to affect us more than Liverpool though but it was us who went 2-0 up with what was in my opinion the best goal of the season, a stunning scissor kick volley. Liverpool did pull 1 back but United saw out the win, a major boost in the race for a top 4 finish. A 3-1 win at home to Villa, which included a first brace for the excellent Ander Herrera, was followed by the Manchester derby at Old Trafford, a loss would have meant 5 derby losses in a row and Aguero’s early goal looked ominous for us but we had other ideas, Ashley Young in particular, with him first scoring the equaliser and then setting up Fellaini for our 2nd. 2 quick goals midway through the 2nd half to make it 4-1 and calls of “we want six” began. The match ended in negative fashion however with Carrick going off injured and City scoring soon after. The impact of Carrick’s injury went further than this game as we lost the next 3 without scoring a single goal, in fact there was only 1 win after the City game, a rather tame end to a season which at one point looked to be ending very positively, 2nd even looked possible at a time but I’ll settle for 4th especially after last season.
Given the amount of changes that have happened around the club recently, 4th place in the league is acceptable but next season more will be required. A few signings are expected and players will leave too but those who stay will be expected to improve. Defensively we’ve improved but can improve further while more goals are required from our forwards also. Van Gaal complained about our pre-season schedule last summer and feels this summer’s schedule will prepare his squad better for next season, which will also hopefully reduce the amount of injuries we have seen this season. Van Gaal knows his squad better now and has settled on a formation while the squad themselves know what Van Gaal wants from them. For the first time since Fergie, we will enter a new season with the same manager that ended the previous season. The club will be more stable and in a better position to challenge for the league.
The 2014/15 season ended with a whimper with a mundane 0-0 affair away at an ultimately relegated Hull City; but how was the campaign as a whole?
In truth it’s hard to judge; the post-Ferguson transition is still very much in effect and there are certainly positives and negatives to take from Louis Van Gaal’s debut campaign.
Unlike his predecessor who took Champions to 7th, Van Gaal did manage to climb back up from 7th into the Champions League, albeit with a potentially tricky qualifier to negotiate. It was a bare minimum requirement having spent so heavily last summer and it that sense can be seen as simply par.
United played well in spurts throughout the season but an inability to turn possession into penetration leaves cause for concern. Van Gaal’s record against the ‘bigger’ teams is certainly a positive, as have been glimpses, particularly at home to Tottenham and away to Liverpool, of the Dutchman’s fabled ‘philosophy’ baring fruit with controlled, attacking football.
There is a feeling of job done about the season. Looking back, the overriding sense is one of numbness; United simply did what they had to do, only ever briefly flirting with form that threatened to aim higher or fall into despair. Looking forwards a real sense of excitement and anticipation takes hold.
An even bigger summer of upheaval awaits (if reports are to be believed) and finally we may get a real sense of Van Gaal’s United. Even under Moyes the squad maintained the feel of Ferguson’s side, if only on paper as opposed to performances.
There is every possibility that the side which kicks off the 2015/16 campaign will bare little connection if any to Ferguson’s playing staff in his final season and that is the sort of monumental change required following the retirement of such a monumental figure.
Manchester United needed refreshing, a new way of thinking to rejuvenate a club which had stagnated in the post-Ferguson hangover. Fresh ideas combined with unwavering belief; Van Gaal is likely to prove the right man for the task. With some astute dealings in the summer, there is no reason to doubt that the club can challenge on all fronts next season.
Alan (writer and forum moderator):
To review this season it’s necessary to firstly adjudge the performance of our new manager, Louis van Gaal. Of all the incomings last summer, the success of the incoming manager was always going to have the biggest bearing on the success of our season.
First off what’s clear about Van Gaal is that the man is absolutely nuts… But it works. Unlike his politically correct and respectable predecessor, David Moyes, Van Gaal has the control and the respect of the playing staff. This is in stark contrast to Moyes, who by February of last season after a 2-0 defeat by Olympiakos, seemed to have lost any element of control. A post match Michael Carrick interview seemed to point the blame at Moyes for the defeat.
Although at a similar point this year it seemed that our season might peter out in similar fashion, what was different was that the players seemed to be completely behind Van Gaal and his ‘philosophy’. There has been a real fighting spirit within the squad which indicates this backing in the manager.
What I find strange about Van Gaal is for a man who seems so self-confident; he is very quick to change when things go wrong. We have seen a number of different formations and strange substitutions this season which would indicate he doesn’t have full belief in the current roster. Even during our brilliant three game spell of convincing victories over Spurs, Liverpool and Man City, the side was lacking balance and players were playing out of position.
Therefore it is essential that the right players are brought in this summer to avoid another season of chopping and changing. After one season getting to grips with the Premier League and with Manchester United, we can expect more from Van Gaal next season. You feel that the players will benefit from having a full pre-season under him also.
As for those players, it will be interesting to see which of them will remain come September 1st given Van Gaal’s comments about a ‘heavy’ summer ahead. Three players who’s United careers were on the line this season – Young, Fellaini and Smalling, were three of our better and more consistent performers this season. They all have futures at the club. However there are question marks over the futures of a lot of others.
Of last season’s signings Ander Herrera has been the most successful to date. He’s been a breath of fresh air in the middle of the park and you sense he will only get better with right players around him. Angel Di Maria made a very promising start but his season has gotten from bad to worse since the turn of the year. The Copa America this summer could work out as perfect timing for him to regain some of the confidence that he has clearly lost over the past 6 months. I still firmly believe he has the potential to be the best player in the league but it’s up to him whether he wants to be or not.
Of the other signings, Blind has shown a lot of promise although it remains to be seen whether he has the discipline to be the successor to Carrick in the holding role. His best showings have come at left back. His versatility and intelligence will make him a key contributor in years to come however. Luke Shaw has had a stop start season with injuries but his one showing away to Chelsea displayed his raw potential for years to come. He has a great engine and Gary Neville, having worked with him at close quarters with England, is insistent he will be top class given time.
In terms of the overall expectations this season, we accomplished what we set out to achieve – Champions League football. More so we have restored our confidence and regained some of the fear factor that eluded us under Moyes. Our home record has drastically improved and you get the feel that Old Trafford is a fortress once more. From the offset and Van Gaal’s first press conference where he declared that United were the ‘number one club in England’, it was clear standards and expectancies were going to be higher than the previous season. With Moyes you got the sense that a mid-table mind-set had seeped through the club, drawing at home to Bayern seen as a major feat. Van Gaal expects more. The players expect more and should the right players arrive this summer, the club will deliver more.
Given our current financial situation and our financial fair play advantage you sense that the right players will arrive this summer. There is already a very good core of players at a good age at the club and there are many youngsters of a lot of promise to come through. 12 months on from last season, the outlook is very promising. United are ready to be a major power once more.