It’s already been a rather interesting season for Manchester United as they adapt to life with Louis van Gaal in the dugout.
The former champions broke the Premier League’s records for individual transfer fees and the amount spent by one club in a single window during the summer, but that was quickly juxtaposed by poor results against Burnley, MK Dons in the Capital One Cup and Leicester City.
As the Red Devils currently find themselves in fourth place however, following impressive wins against West Ham and Everton, there’s a new feeling of optimism around Old Trafford.
That’s shared in the Football FanCast office, to such an extent that we’ve decided to conjure up this list of the FIVE signs that Manchester United WILL qualify for the Champions League – their ultimate aim this season.
So without further ado…
Manchester United’s defensive frailties are well-known and widely documented but there’s no questioning their strength at the other end of the pitch, with an incredible attacking cast including the likes of Angel Di Maria, Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.
They’ve netted 13 times already this season, averaging out at 1.8 goals per game. As viewable below, that return is only betted by Chelsea and Manchester City:
In prior campaigns, such an imbalanced starting XI would only work against the Red Devils. But over the course of the last few years, the Premier League has become engulfed in a goal-friendly culture; in 2010 Chelsea bagged the most goals scored in a single season (103), in 2012 the title was decided on goal difference alone, and last term, two clubs – City and Liverpool – reached triple figures in the league.
Indeed, it appears resolute defending has taken a backward step throughout the top flight for the sake of proficiency going forward, something United currently possess in abundance. Falcao got off the mark with his first Premier League goal against Everton:
Whilst Angel Di Maria has already bagged three goals in just five appearances, but more about the Argentine maestro later.
Manchester United’s prolific goal-getting makes them very much an unknown quantity, a side other Premier League clubs will struggle to accurately prepare for.
After all, what will the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal truly be facing in the coming weeks? The old, rugged, determined United? The new breed of world-class attackers? Or a shambolic XI of youngsters and foreigners, still searching for balance, leadership and familiarity? Are they genuine title contenders, or just this season’s entertainers?
The unpredictability of results thus far under Louis van Gaal – the shock defeats to Mk Dons and Leicester City, a 4-0 thrashing in the Capital One Cup and a 5-3 comeback in the league respectively – and the immeasurable power of United’s history, further adds to the feeling of ambiguity.
They’ve already employed two completely different systems this year – a 4-1-2-1-2 and a 3-4-3 – and United’s starting Xi is absolutely bursting with match-winners – players who can turn a game on its head in an instant.
Yet to face a major opponent, the element of surprise currently accompanying United will keep the Premier League’s top clubs attempting to second-guess them.
Take another look at the Premier League table:
Right now, Everton, Liverpool, Arsenal and Spurs, who were all in the race for last year’s Champions League spots, are collectively struggling for consistency and form.
The Toffees for example, are just two points clear of the relegation zone, whilst Arsenal have only won twice from seven fixtures.
Of course, at this point in the season there’s still just a handful of points separating the vast majority of sides, with ten point gap between the relegation spots and Manchester City in second.
But the point remains that the stage is set for United to assert their dominance early-on whilst their divisional rivals are still finding their feet.
Whether the Red Devils can hold onto their current position of fourth however will largely depend on results in the coming weeks, as they take on Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal before the end of November.
It would be wrong and wholly inaccurate to describe Manchester United as a one-man team, but if there’s one player who’s currently head and shoulders above the rest, it’s summer signing Angel Di Maria.
Indeed, the Argentina international has been nothing short of incredible since United signed him for a record-breaking £59million, as shown below:
Whoscored.com have put him in their European Team of the Season thus far:
…in no small part due to some incredible goals, such as this one against Leicester City back in September:
Unquestionably the most in-form midfielder the Premier League currently has to offer, if the Red Devils can keep the 26 year-old firing for the majority of the season, they’ve got a fantastic chance of qualifying for the Champions League.
Less than a month ago, following a 0-0 draw with Burnley and a 5-3 defeat to Leicester City, it looked like the Red Devils were in for another tough campaign.
But recent results, specifically wins against West Ham and Everton, have changed all that. Not only because they constituted Manchester United’s first consecutive victories under Louis van Gaal, but due to the impressive quality of the opposition.
Judging by the series of shrewd signings Sam Allardyce made this summer, including Alex Song, Enner Valencia, Ryan Cresswell, Diafra Sakho and Cheikhou Kouyate to name a few, in combination with their positive start to the season, the Hammers look set for a top half finish this season. They’ve already recorded a 3-1 victory over Liverpool at Upton Park, the highlights of which are viewable below:
Likewise, Everton have endured a poor start to the campaign, but they’re a strong outfit and based on their league standing over the last ten years, remain the essential litmus test for clubs looking to qualify for the Champions League. As shown in the highlights below, Manchester United impressed as they fought to a 2-1 victory over the Toffees.
In other words, West Ham and Everton are the calibre of side Manchester United should be beating if they’re to make it into the top four. As previously mentioned however, the real test comes between now and the end of November, as the Red Devils face Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.