Following another summer of big spending, United are looking to continue their climb back towards the summit of the Premier League. It has been a strange few years for them as they continue to adjust to life without Alex Ferguson at the helm. Media favourite Louis Van Gaal continues to try and push United onwards.
Hi Paul, thanks for coming on! Firstly, what are your expectations for the season?
A generation of being ridiculously spoiled means that it’s hard to concede to any expectation other than the title. Realistically though, the aim should be to narrow the points gap to Chelsea and get within striking distance, much like Chelsea two seasons ago. The FA Cup remains a long lost, dimly remembered old friend, so it’d be nice to win that, but that can never be an expectation.
As for Europe, I suspect Van Gaal’s probably well suited to get us to punch a bit above our weight, but we’re obviously a long way below the best right now.
United have bought in a lot of players for the second summer in a row. Who’s the pick of the bunch? Who should we be keeping an eye on?
4 players isn’t that many is it? Oh, and taking a back-up goalie on a free I suppose, but does that count? Anyway, Schweinsteiger is the pick of the bunch quality wise, Depay is the pick of the bunch exciting raw talent wise, and keep an eye on Darmian. Hard to get TOO energised about full backs, but he’s a really good one. I also like Schneiderlin (just mentioned that so he doesn’t feel bad if he reads this).
The area United seem weakest is in central defence. As opposed to the influx of central midfielders the existing core of Jones, Smalling and Evans has (so far) remained untouched. Are they really good enough for a title challenge and a European campaign? Are we underestimating them?
No they are not. No you are not, unless you don’t think Smalling is good, because he is. The other two though, I dunno. I really rated Evans a couple of seasons ago (which I fairly frequently get mocked for) and I still can’t shake the feeling that Phil Jones might secretly be good, but neither of them are in much danger of being underrated.
Interestingly, Van Gaal has said he’s starting the season with Blind at left centre-back because he loves a ball player in defence. Seems odd to not even consider playing a central defender there, but such is life. Won’t be surprised if we sign a big name player for the position before September.
Another area which looks a bit threadbare is up front. A lot has been made of Rooney being restored as the main man but can he deliver the goods all year?
Surely not, right? The case for the defence in his case is that in the two seasons he’s spent as an out-and-out No. 9 at United he’s scored more than 20 league goals. The case for the prosecution says he’s less mobile than he once was and his first touch is like some sort of elaborate performance art project about confounding early expectations or something. It’s bad is what I’m saying.
I hope I’m wrong, and he starts bangin’ ’em in for fun, but I can’t see it. We do have a lot of goals in the squad though, Mata, Depay, and midfielders who’ll chip in.
Finally, a word on Van Gaal. I know you’re a fan of him personally but how legit is the concern that he’s building a short term team and sacrificing the long haul? Should it even be a concern?
I do like him. On a personal note I wonder how much I’d have loved him if he’d come straight after Fergie. A lot, I think is the answer, but not as much as I do in that he came after Moyes who was a dour mess. I think the concern that he’s building for the short term is a very odd accusation to throw at a manager who gave first team debuts to a lot of kids last season, and has brought in four players this summer, a youngster, an older head (in a role where we really need leadership) and two players in their mid-20s. Also, if you look at Van Gaal’s history, both Barcelona and Bayern were a lot stronger after him than before he’d got there, even if how it ended with them was acrimonious.
Anyway, he gave out Christmas presents to fans near the dugout in December, so you know, that’s got to count for something.
Thanks again for answering some questions
Interview by Alex Timperley