Manchester United fans have seen their pre-season tour end on a low note after losing to Paris Saint Germain, and while there is the argument that you can take very little bar fitness from any game that isn’t actually a competitive one, you can spot signs, be it good or bad ones.
United showed enough about them against Barcelona for people to consider them a real title threat to Chelsea ahead of the new season, but then after defeat to the Ligue 1 Champions PSG, questions were asked, signs were heavily pointed to and there are some problems at the club that need to be addressed.
Their goalkeeping situation is a problem. Only someone with Arsene Wenger’s ostrich like burying your head in the sand qualities would try and deny that. De Gea may be the consummate professional, but during their game against PSG, he looked unhappy, lacking match fitness and disinterested, and made a host of errors that were uncharacteristic to say the very least.
With that being the final pre-season game before their opener against Tottenham Hotspur, bar one game behind closed doors, the question of if Van Gaal should opt for one of his back-up options or just take a chance on De Gea, who let’s not forget was the star of last season, remains to be seen.
The fact that United were made to look like fools for the second time in one summer by Sergio Ramos, following the Dani Alves flirtation, has not gone down well with fans, and you could understand if the club now played hardball with De Gea, and used the keeper as the fall guy in their point scoring with Real Madrid, forcing him to stay for one final season.
United fans knew there was a ruthless streak in Louis van Gaal, but the Manchester United manager showed tenfold what happens when a player crosses him with his comments about Victor Valdes, which rightly or wrongly, spelled the end of the Spaniard’s time at Old Trafford. Valdes refuted the comments, taking to Twitter to claim he had played in more than one Under 21s fixture, but Van Gaal’s mind was made up – and the civil war between the pair will only have one winner.
Crossing him is one thing, but the Dutchman is equally brutal when he feels that a player is not performing or giving anything to the side. Look at right back Rafael, who was slaughtered by the Dutchman, and told via a room of media that he could not defend in the first phase or anywhere else.
Van Gaal does not take any messing about, which makes it remarkable that Angel Di Maria has been allowed to go AWOL to such an extent – but the Argentine is another one who does not have a future at Old Trafford, with the club willing to take a significant loss on the player who broke records in terms of his transfer fee when they signed him.
That being said, he like all managers has his favourites, and it is clear that Daley Blind is front and centre of that group, with the utility man spending the majority of pre-season on the left hand side of the centre back pairing, and being named as a player who will begin the season in the heart of the defence by his manager. Van Gaal may trust Blind in just about any position on the field, but quite if the fans or the media will is another matter altogether – then again, it is an irrelevant one, with Van Gaal and Van Gaal alone the one who makes the decisions.
For as much as he loves Blind, he cannot seem to take to Ander Herrera, with fans wondering just what the likeable midfielder has done so wrong to be shunted from pillar to post last season, dropped on more than one occasion, and a player who judging by pre-season this time out, looks like being the fall guy in the middle of the park now United have some world class players to contend for starting berths there.
Up top the club have real issues, there are no two ways about it. Still without a replacement for Robin van Persie, skipper Wayne Rooney is the only striker LVG and the fans would really rely on to net them those goals, with Chicharito out of favour and James Wilson still learning his trade. You may have thought it would have been prudent to secure RVP’s replacement before letting him go, but according to the forward, the writing was on the wall for him at the tail end of last season regardless.
Van Gaal has promised a ‘surprise’, which, interestingly enough is the same phrase used by Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he described his future and potential new club, and with a deal for Di Maria yet to be finalised, there is a case to be made for one of Cavani or Ibra to come as part exchange. While Old Trafford is not a car dealership, both those players would do a very good job for the Red Devils, although the tempestuous relationship between Van Gaal and Ibra would be cause for concern.
Pedro looks like as much of a done deal as you can get without a shirt being held up by the player and the obligatory quotes about a ‘new challenge’, being ‘proud’ to wear the shirt and ‘wanting to win titles’ are wheeled out in front of the press, and that is a good move. Just because you are a Barcelona benchwarmer does not mean you won’t do well in England. Look at Alexis and Cesc, both of whom never really hit their full potential at the Camp Nou for various reasons, but are vital cogs in the Chelsea and Arsenal machines, and won every domestic trophy on offer between them last season.
The signs for United are positive. There is no denying that. Having the likes of Schweinsteiger in the middle of the park is a significant improvement on Cleverley, and United have shown in flashes during their pre-season campaign that there is enough quality there to improve on last season. Quite if they can usurp Mourinho and Chelsea however is another matter altogether.