Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United have struggled to find a replacement worthy of the number seven shirt. Michael Owen and more recently Antonio Valencia have tried and failed to live up to the jersey’s history before the arrival of Angel di Maria. Since pulling on the famous shirt, the Argentina international has excelled and produced a string of match-winning performances. For many United fans, it is surreal seeing Di Maria playing in the red of Manchester United. Many people doubted that Di Maria was worth the £59.7m fee from Real Madrid, but in five Premier League appearances, Di Maria has scored three and laid on a further three assists to fellow team-mates. Having Di Maria in the United team frightens opposing players and his ability to drift past players and produce moments of magic makes him worthy of the famous No7 shirt.
With United’s defensive woes well-documented, young goalkeeper David De Gea will be regularly called upon on this season. With the summer departures of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, United lost all of their defensive leaders and experience. With no colossal defenders signed in the summer, it may take some time for United’s backline to become reliable and dominant once again. A lot of responsibility will fall on Spaniard De Gea after a troublesome start to his United career. De Gea has progressed into one of the best goalkeepers around. His most recent heroics came in United’s last league game against Everton. De Gea pulled off a string of world-class saves, which included a penalty save against Leighton Baines – that was left-back’s first penalty miss in the Premier League. De Gea’s heroics ensured that United came away with three vital points, however with big games coming up against the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, De Gea may have to reproduce these kinds of performances on a regular basis this season with United’s defence looking vulnerable.
Daley Blind’s signing went under the radar at United. With the blockbuster signings of Di Maria and Radamel Falcao many have forgotten that Blind has slotted straight into the United side. The Dutch star’s ability to break up the play and produce simple and effective football has bolstered United’s midfield. The Red Devils have lacked a Blind type of player for a long time, it could be argued that United haven’t managed to replace Owen Hargreaves. With big tests to come for United, Blind will be integral for United’s chances. With Blind seemingly a certain starter in Louis van Gaal’s side, it allows the attacking players the freedom to roam, knowing Blind will be disciplined and screen the back line. Blind will very rarely prove to be the match winner for United but his role in this United team is pivotal and Van Gaal has placed a lot of faith in his fellow Dutchman.
Last year, United not only looked like a team that struggled to score goals but also seemed stricken of an identity of how to play the game. Nevertheless under the guidance of Van Gaal, the attacking options have been bolstered significantly after Ander Herrera, Falcao and Di Maria all joined the club. United now have a plenty of options in the attacking positions. With a suspect defence, United’s philosophy seems focused on attractive and attacking football. With United facing Chelsea and Manchester City in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how Van Gaal sets his side up and whether he decides to play all of his attacking stars in the big games.
When academy graduates Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck left the club this summer, many felt that the days of young players been given the chance at Old Trafford were long gone. Contrary to those claims, Van Gaal has gone on to hand senior debuts to seven of United’s young prospects, with defenders Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair being given the opportunities to stake their claim in the United side. Bringing young players through at Red Devils is something that is instilled in the club’s DNA. Van Gaal doesn’t seem fazed by throwing young players into the mix and taking a risk, with the likes of Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson being consistent figures in the Under-21 side, the club’s future remains bright. On the other hand, with United only remaining in two competitions this season, the likes of Januzaj may have to sit tight and be patient.
United fans have reason to be optimistic under Van Gaal. When David Moyes was in charge, there was no clear philosophy of how to play the game. Under Van Gaal, the team looks stronger and players seem on board with the Dutchman’s philosophy. Additionally it is imperative that everyone at the club stays grounded and realises that there is a huge amount of work ahead in order for the club to reach greatness once again. With bigger tests to come, United will be punished if they show the naivety that they have recently shown against the likes of Leicester City and MK Dons. The positives outweigh the negatives, but the team is by no means back to its position of power under Sir Alex Ferguson.
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