What a difference 12 months makes. Last Christmas Manchester United were very much in the middle of the table – resembling a turkey in more ways than one – with the David Moyes reign on the verge of reaching its lowest ebb. But, now Louis van Gaal is in charge, exciting football is a regular occurrence at Old Trafford and a somewhat unlikely title charge is being talked about in the stands.
However, even though things are looking rosier than Sir Alex Ferguson’s cheeks on a cold December afternoon, LVG could do with a few lovely little gifts under his Christmas tree… and here are FIVE that could well be on his list to Mr Claus…
The above list shows all of the injuries Louis van Gaal has had to contend with since taking over at Man United. Ouch. A large chunk of these fitness blows have been for defenders, with the likes of Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling having all spent time on the sidelines, preventing the Dutchman from fielding a consistent back two or three.
The perfect present for Van Gaal would be a guarantee that at least a handful of his centre-backs and full-backs can remain clear of injury.
The two major areas of concern in the United squad seem to be at centre-back and in holding midfield. Of the £150m spent during the summer, the majority was used for attacking additions, and while goals have been forthcoming of late at Old Trafford, conceding at the other end is an issue. Strootman of Roma and Dortmund’s Hummels are widely seen as the two players to solve the issues, with the Dutch midfielder and German defender two of the best players in Europe in their respective positions.
The headlines when he arrived from Monaco in a summer deadline day loan deal are about the only ones the Colombian has grabbed so far. Falcao was tipped to be a massive success regardless of his knee injury, but United’s gamble has, so far, failed to pay off. The 28-year-old has notched just two goals and has made most of his appearances for the Red Devils from the bench, with injuries having been a worry. A calf problem has been the latest issue, but the ACL injury suffered back in January looks to be the major worry. Once an explosive force in the final third, the troublesome joint appears to have robbed Falcao of a yard of pace.
United have been by no means impressive this season. A recent run of six wins on the bounce repaired the damage of early losses at the hands of Swansea and Leicester, but the Red Devils’ third place slot owes much to the issues at clubs around them. Arsenal cannot hold a lead, Liverpool cannot score and Spurs cannot be non-Spursey, leaving West Ham and Southampton, who are tipped to fall away, as major rivals. If the chasing pack continue to stutter, United are in a great position to qualify for the Champions League
Injury issues have forced LVG to deploy Carrick as a centre-back of late. Although admirably secure in the role, the midfielder’s true talents lay in building attacks, which he is often too deep to do when used in a back three. Van Gaal would surely love to be able to use the veteran playmaker in his preferred role, but he will need some luck with injuries before that’s an option.