In this edition of SEA View we discuss the season so far, the lessons learned and what we’d like to see improved in the immediate future.
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Jason (writer and moderator)
We are 7 league games into the Louis van Gaal era and it’s been a mixed start. Having been given an easier start, fixtures-wise, than last season, many would have expected a much better start to the season than we have made. After picking up just 2 points from the first 3 games in August, we have 9 from our last 4 and really should have picked up another 3 at Leicester. Performances have improved gradually since the transfer window closed but there is still room for much more improvement.
The signings have provided a much needed boost to the team and have adjusted pretty quickly I think, Di Maria has received the plaudits and rightly so, he has provided a much needed boost of quality to the team and his pace and direct approach has defenders worried, something we’ve lacked in recent seasons. Falcao looks to be getting sharper with each game and now he has his first goal I think he could go on a run. Daley Blind has been very effective in protecting the defence, breaking up play and recycling possession. Marcos Rojo has done very well at centre back next to young McNair in the past 2 games; he looked comfortable in his first game at left back but had a tough time at Leicester. Luke Shaw was a bit naive to concede a penalty against Everton recently but has impressed me both defensively and offensively so far and I look forward to seeing him progress over this season and in the future. The signing i’ve been most impressed by however is Ander Herrera, when available he has been fantastic, hopefully he’ll return sooner rather than later from his rib injury. As they settle further into their new club I can only see them getting better along with the rest of the squad.
There haven’t been many other things I’ve been disappointed in so far but Jonny Evans is certainly one of them, with Ferdinand and Vidic leaving in the summer, I expected Evans to step up as the senior member of the defence this season. Injury problems still linger and he still seems to have at least one mistake a game in him. With regular games I think he could be a very good defender but he’s already picked up 2 or 3 injuries this season so regular games seem a lot to ask. When he returns from his latest injury, he will need to stay fit and start performing otherwise he may lose his place at the club. It’s the same story for Chris Smalling who has been equally as disappointing this season, again injuries have not helped. Adnan Januzaj’s lack of game time has been another disappointment although I suspect he’s being managed having gone to the World Cup with Belgium but another reason maybe that he doesn’t quite fit in to the current diamond formation.
He has not been without fault but I’ve been impressed by Louis van Gaal so far, I really like what he’s trying to do, there’s a clear plan of how he wants us to play and they are true to the traditions of the club as is his faith in youth which has been great to see after the criticism the club received at the end of August. But as I said, he is not without fault; some of his substitutions have been odd and detrimental to the team. Having showed how big an impact his substitutions make at this summer’s World Cup, I believe this is just a glitch though and perhaps is due to him not fully knowing the players he has at his disposal. I’d like to see him have more of a positive impact from the touchline after the international break.
After our last game against Everton, van Gaal said “I’ve already told my players we aren’t playing good and we’ve already hit the top four, so what will happen when we’re playing well?”. It’s exactly what I wanted to hear and in the coming months we’ll hopefully see that improvement.
I received a text recently from an old University friend: ‘United have been shocking so far this season’, it read. This kind of sentiment had become a recurring theme amongst quite a few opposition fans and, although the nay-sayers have become somewhat subdued in light of two important home wins, you can’t help but feel that any semblance of a slip up against West Brom would cause them all to crawl back out again.
Annoying, in my opinion, as I believe we have seen some real progress at Old Trafford this term. It’s not all been rosy, of course, but even in the 5-3 defeat to Leicester the team showcased some real attacking verve, possessing a tenacity that we’ve not had since Ronny packed his bags for Spain.
Still, ‘work in progress’ would be a suitable tag-line for the opening gambit of Louis van Gaal’s reign at Old Trafford and it is likely to continue to be so until at least the January transfer window. But for the first time in a long time a potent sense of positivity surrounds Old Trafford, both among the players and the fans. The excitement is back and confidence in our new manager means that most feel it is a case of when, not if, our defensive frailties issues will be resolved.
This is why it wound me up so much to read the text from my mate, so dismissive of the blatant improvements. Yes, we look suspect at the back, but going forward with the likes of Di Maria, Mata and Herrera, we look ruthless and when it all boils down to it, that is the core of United.
An approaching run of difficult fixtures could give us a more accurate glimpse of where our squad currently stands, but even if City and Chelsea were to turn us over it’s important to remember what we’re aiming for this year – a return to Europe’s elite. From what I’ve seen so far, I’m feeling quietly confident.
Stability was the key word of success under Ferguson; wholesale changes were rarely seen as it was a gradual process, three or four coming and going each summer. Season on season we had a fair idea what to expect. This summer however we have seen a complete over haul. Now it was badly needed, but what wholesale change leads to is unpredictability. It can go any which way, as Spurs saw last season and perhaps Liverpool are seeing this term.
However for me, the changes United have made have brought about a huge improvement from where we were. The mediocrity has been wiped clean with the departure of more than 10 players who would have featured quite heavily last season and in truth are not good enough. What they have been replaced with is 6 top quality additions that have vastly improved the quality of the first team. The ‘deadwood’ that have left have had their squad places filled by young, hungry, enthusiastic prospects with points to prove.
What this has all resulted in is a complete change of mood. You can sense that the cloud from last season has been lifted you can see it in the way we are playing. Results have been mixed but we are moving in the right direction. We have been very unfortunate with injuries, particularly defensively, and should our luck improve on that front, results should also. But for me the most important thing this season was as I say removing the cloud; releasing the shackles that held us back so much last season and instilling a freedom in the players to express themselves once more. So despite there being areas we need to improve, my overall view is – so far, so good.