After two seasons without a title fight, Manchester United fans are about to head into 2015-16 with more optimism than they ever have since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
Although the Betfair betting markets have United down only as fourth favourites to win the Premier League this season, their activity in the transfer market has them closing the gap on Chelsea.
Louis van Gaal ended last season in good form following a slow start – qualification to this season’s UEFA Champions League meaning everything.
It’s been an exciting couple of days for United fans – the signings of Matteo Darmian (£13m), Bastian Schweinsteiger (£14m) and Morgan Schneiderlin (£25m) all bring real quality to the squad and fill areas where the Red Devils were weak last season.
Darmian is an exciting right-back who offers good support in attack. He will be replacing Antonio Valencia whom was a weak link in defence last season, on top of which his crosses in attacking areas were often wasteful.
Despite being on the sidelines for a lengthy time for each of the past two seasons, Bastian Schweinsteiger remains one of my favourite players in world football. It was 12 months ago today he was lifting the FIFA World Cup, a tournament in which I felt he or Toni Kroos should have been named the best player, over Lionel Messi who was handed the prize.
Schweinsteiger has been dictating games for Bayern Munich in the centre of midfield in both the German Bundesliga and Champions League for numerous years now, and for Germany too. There’s no reason why he won’t do that at Old Trafford, provided he stays healthy.
Morgan Schneiderlin has been one of the top holding midfielders in the Premier League for the past three seasons following Southampton’s promotion to the top flight. Arsène Wenger had been tracking his fellow countryman for more than a year so van Gaal has done a good job to land the 25-year-old.
The French international featured at last summer’s World Cup, offering great protection to the back four of both his national team and Southampton. Michael Carrick was the only player offering that for United last season and in my mind, Schneiderlin is an upgrade on the 33-year-old England international.
Before this trio arrived, United splashed out £25 million on PSV Eindhoven forward Memphis Depay. The young Dutch international was the Eredvisie’s top scorer last season as his side ran away with the title.
Depay offers pace down that left wing and is a good finisher. Does he have the strength to handle the Premier League? That’s what we’re waiting to find out.
Louis van Gaal still has areas to work on. First, the centre of his defence. United relied heavily on outstanding performances from David de Gea last season to keep the goals against tally down. They appear to have failed in luring Mats Hummels and Raphaël Varane to the club this summer, having missed out Thomas Vermaelen and Stefan de Vrij 12 months ago.
Will they land Sergio Ramos or Nicolás Otamendi this time around? They’re in need of a stop star in this position if they want to be in the title race.
Up front is also another area that the Dutch manager may want to add to. Radamel Falcao’s deal was rightfully terminated and Robin van Persie has been sold to Fenerbahçe. The arrivals of two central midfielders though does free up Wayne Rooney to play in attack this season.
With Ángel Di María and Ashley Young as options on the left – does this mean we could also see Memphis Depay playing a central striker role in 2015-16? Or do United have a deal lined up for another striker that we’ve yet to hear about?
The final area in which the United boss is looking at is in goal. He would be mad to keep David de Gea on for a further 12 months. The Spaniard’s head looked turned in the final few games of the season and his performances were not near the high standard he set during the rest of the season.
De Gea’s mind is on Real Madrid, so let him go. He will not be the same goalkeeper at Manchester United as he was last season, whilst he has good value this summer, in comparison to losing him on a free transfer in 12 months’ time.
Manchester United’s betting odds suggest they are fourth favourites for the 2015-16 Premier League. Personally, I think they’re closer to Chelsea than Manchester City right now, but there are still a few areas they need to fill if they want a shot at the trophy.