No, you aren’t caught in some kind of footballing time-warp. Believe it or not, for the second season in a row, Manchester United, under new management, will kick off their season against Swansea City.
During the Premier League opener last term, the Red Devils, lead by David Moyes, came away with a 4-1 win. Considering how torrid his tenure turned out to be however, I’m sure Louis van Gaal will be pushing for an even more impressive debut.
But there are still plenty of questions to be answered before the weekend, most significantly, who will be an official Manchester United player by the time Swansea turn up in Manchester?
The Old Trafford outfit have a number of priority targets that could arrive at Carrington by the end of the week, so with that in mind, here’s a look at their ‘Dream Starting XI’ to take on the Welsh outfit during Saturday’s early kick-off.
Quickly emerging as a world-class shot-stopper and one of a rare few Manchester United players who can hold his head high after last season, it would be a monumental shock if David De Gea wasn’t continued in his No.1 berth against Swansea at the weekend.
Had the Spaniard not been in impeccable form throughout last term, the Red Devils’ torrid campaign could have been considerably more embarrassing – with this double-save against Olympiacos in the Champions League being a perfect example:
Boasting cat-like reflexes, calmness on the ball and improving the aerial weaknesses of his game all the time, there seems little reason for Louis van Gaal to oust the 23 year-old now.
Phil Jones reaction to meeting LVG pic.twitter.com/asgSPVUgZg
— United_We_Stand (@Callum_nick) July 17, 2014
Phil Jones’ progress at Manchester United hit a few bumps in the road last season.
He’s heralded as a future centre-back of world-class status, but often a victim of his own versatility, was used in far too many different positions by David Moyes:
But the introduction of a three-man defence at Old Trafford could bring out the best in the England international. He’s well acquainted with the right-back and centre-back roles, and has enough quality on the ball to venture into midfield.
Louis van Gaal is famed for his ability to help youngsters realise their full potential too, and the combination of both factors could see Jones emerge as a stalwart for club and country.
A few more of these wouldn’t go amiss either:
If Manchester United are to make 3-5-2 their permanent formation, securing the signature of a top-quality centre-half is a must this summer.
It’s no secret that Louis van Gaal’s desired purchase is Borussia Dortmund star Mats Hummels, having been continually linked with the World Cup winner throughout the summer. Recent speculation suggests the Red Devils are preparing a final offer:
Manchester United will make ‘one final £30m bid for transfer target Mats Hummels’ http://t.co/KrSVWYsAYh
— Metro Sport (@Metro_Sport) August 10, 2014
Measuring in at 6 foot 4 and averaging five successful aerial duels per match last season, the Germany centre-back is a formidable force in the air.
But the 36-cap international is better known for his ability to play out of the back and link-up with midfield, often leading to comparisons with Mannschaft legend Franz Beckenbauer, best represented by these attacking and passing statistics:
Here’s a vid showing Hummels’ impressive all-round game:
Adding him to the Old Trafford ranks before next weekend will be a tough task however with Jurgen Klopp exceptionally reluctant to sell. So reluctant in fact, he’s issued Hummels the captain’s armband at Westfalen:
— IndyFootball (@IndyFootball) August 11, 2014
Manchester United have received a significant boost in their alleged pursuit of Ajax star Daley Blind, following the Netherlands international’s admission yesterday that he would consider an Old Trafford switch:
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) August 9, 2014
Following a Player of the Year award-winning campaign with the Eredivisie Champions, the 24 year-old finished Brazil 2014 with the second-most assists of any player, as detailed below:
That includes this sensational delivery to Robin van Persie against Spain:
At the World Cup, Blind featured in the left-wing back role. But he’s an exceptionally versatile player with sound technique and tactical understanding (like most Dutch footballers) and could be an inspired choice for the left side of a back three, whilst offering vital cover to other departments.
The revelation that the Oranje utility man would listen to offers from the Red Devils whilst Ajax appear to be preparing for his departure suggests a move could be completed by the end of the week.
But known interest from Barcelona could be an issue:
Daley Blind: It would be very hard to turn down Manchester United or Barcelona http://t.co/KAsDyPrSW4
— Goal (@goal_intl) August 9, 2014
Fiorentina star Juan Cuadrado is primarily considered a winger. But the Colombian international is versatile and industrious off the ball, and was thus utilised at No.2, amongst other positions, by the Serie A side last season:
He’s also been mooted as a potential successor to Dani Alves in that role, but it appears Manchester United are leading the race for his signature following news that he’s agreed personal terms:
Manchester United ‘agree personal terms with Juan Cuadrado’ – Manchester United appear to be a step closer to seal… http://t.co/ufIeOQpK7Y
— Metro Sport (@Metro_Sport) August 11, 2014
The 26 year-old absolutely destroyed the Italian top flight last year and had a significant impact at Brazil 2014, as detailed below:
In fact, nobody at the tournament bettered his four assists, including this set-up to James Rodriguez:
Combining pace, athleticism, trickery and netting prowess, this goal typifies the South American:
Whether United can wrap up a deal for the £36million-rated attacker before they face Swansea City at the weekend however, remains to be seen.
Now the most expensive full-back in the history of football and the only left-back on the Old Trafford roster, despite apparent concerns over his fitness it would be incredibly surprising if Louis van Gaal didn’t issue Luke Shaw his Manchester United debut at the weekend.
Of course, the ex-Saints starlet comes with a preceding reputation, having made the No.3 slot his own at St.Mary’s over the last few seasons and shown enough promise to usurp Ashley Cole from a place in the England set-up he’s held for over a decade, all at just 18 years of age.
Famed for his vibrancy going forward and athleticism, Shaw is perfect for the wing-back role and should add a whole new dimension to United’s attack. Here’s some of his best moments for Southampton:
Another summer signing likely to be given his competitive debut for the Red Devils at the weekend is midfielder Ander Herrera.
The 24 year-old was in strong form for Athletic Bilbao last season, as seen below, paving the way for his £29million move to Old Trafford:
The Spaniard is seen as the perfect acquisition to add some mobility and technical quality to United’s engine room. Here’s some of Herrera’s best moments for the La Liga side:
And Herrera’s United career has thus far gone swimmingly. He helped the Red Devils claim the International Champions Cup in Miami, producing this defence-splitting assist to Ashley Young:
News came towards the end of last week that Manchester United had agreed personal terms with priority target Arturo Vidal:
— IndyFootball (@IndyFootball) August 7, 2014
The Chile international’s box-to-box style, boasting robust athleticism, tackling ability and netting prowess, is seen as perfect for Louis van Gaal’s attacking mentality.
He’s also well acquainted with the 3-5-2 system, having played under it in all of the Old Lady’s 38 Serie A games last season and at the World Cup, albeit in a more advanced role, with Chile.
Furthermore, the 27 year-old was in unbelievable form last season as the Juve and Vidal claimed their third consecutive Italian title. Here’s a look at his vitals from the campaign:
It appears the deal is close to completion and could be wrapped up by the weekend:
— IndyFootball (@IndyFootball) August 11, 2014
But the £45million-rated midfielder’s knee injury could provide a late stumbling block.
One major advantage of the 3-5-2 system is that it allows Juan Mata to revert back to his most influential and prolific role as a No.10.
No doubt, the 26 year-old is a quality player, and after finding his feet at Old Trafford was one of United’s more productive performers, as viewable below:
This set piece effort against Southampton particularly stood out:
Now brought back into the central position and likely to stay there as long as van Gaal utilises a 3-5-2, its time for the Spain international to come good on his £37million price-tag.
Likewise to Juan Mata, having two up front lets Wayne Rooney – who has often complained about his role at Manchester United – return to his favoured and more natural position of out-and-out striker.
The England international was disappointing at the World Cup (as were the rest of the Three Lions) but verged upon talismanic for the Red Devils last season, as detailed below:
Here’s a look at the 28 year-old’s highlights from the 2014/15 campaign:
Rooney also won the Player of the Tournament award at the International Champions Cup and appears to be getting on very well with Louis van Gaal:
Louis van Gaal praises Wayne Rooney ahead of Manchester United’s Premier League campaign http://t.co/VY06FUdAFK
— Daily Mail Football (@MAILfootball) August 11, 2014
So expect big things from the former Everton youngster next season!
In an ideal situation, the second striker slot would undoubtedly go to Robin van Persie – one of the Premier League’s most potent front-men who enjoys a father-I-never-had relationship with Louis van Gaal.
But the Netherlands skipper missed Manchester United’s tour of America after picking up an injury at the World Cup, and thus has been officially ruled out of the Red Devils’ opener against Swansea.
It’s likely the role will instead go to Danny Welbeck, not least because Javier Hernandez is expected to be ousted from Old Trafford by the end of the summer:
EXCLUSIVE: Hernandez, Fellaini, Nani, Anderson and Rafael axed… but Kagawa is set to STAY at Manchester United http://t.co/mMVaw8NuDJ
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) August 10, 2014
And secondly due to the fact van Gaal likes his sides to press from the front, and in that regard the ever-energetic 23 year-old fits the bill perfectly.
His sharpness in front of goal dramatically improved last season too, netting ten times in 36 appearances across all competitions. Here’s the England international’s best moments from last term: