Manchester United season preview: £24m man to top-score; teenager to shine

Old Trafford Interior

With a new Premier League season just a week away, Vincent Ralph takes a closer look at Manchester United ahead of the new campaign.

What a difference a year makes. This time 12 months ago, Manchester United fans were concerned about a lack of summer spending and wondering if David Moyes could successfully replace Sir Alex Ferguson in the Old Trafford hot seat.

The answer was pretty emphatic, with United slipping to their worst Premier League finish since it came into existence. But fast-forward a year and things are looking much rosier for the club and their fans.

Louis van Gaal has wasted no time transforming the style of play that had many United fans up in arms last season. While players who looked destined for the exit appear rejuvenated under the 62-year-old Dutchman.

So what can we expect from United next season?

Reasons to be positive

The van Gaal factor cannot be underestimated. It is not simply a case that the former Netherlands boss has experience coming out of his ears; it is also the fact that he has instantly lifted the cloud that hung low and constant over United for much of the last campaign.

The manager will know the job he has taken on is sizeable, but he commands respect, and that is vital. Just look at how players who underperformed last season have a considerable spring in their step just a few months later.

There is also the fact that United have already spent well – bringing in one of the most exciting young full-backs in Europe in the shape of Luke Shaw, and reenergising their lacklustre midfield with the signing of Ander Herrera. Both players could thrive at United, the Spaniard already looking like a true missing link.

Trouble on the horizon

While United have spent considerably so far, there are still areas of the team that require substantial surgery. A box-to-box midfielder of real quality is a must – with both Arturo Vidal and Kevin Strootman regularly linked. There is also lack of depth in central defence, especially if van Gaal persists with his 3-5-2 formation next season.

If United do not sign two quality centre-backs and another top-class central midfielder, they could fall well short when you consider the strength of many of their domestic rivals.

The season’s surprise

Ashley Young was one of the players whose time at United looked to be up. The winger has flattered to deceive for much of his career at Old Trafford and, a few great goals aside, he has not performed anywhere near consistently enough.

But under van Gaal, Young has embraced his new role as a wing-back and looks a threat whenever he gets forward. Two goals against Real Madrid tells its own story, following on from a brace in the 7-0 rout of LA Galaxy that first suggested we could be about to see a resurgent Young.

While there will still be plenty of sceptics, given how poorly the former Aston Villa man has played in recent times, he could become a vital player for United if he heeds van Gaal’s advice, works hard and channels his considerable talent.

Young player to watch

James Wilson wasted little time in stealing the headlines on his senior debut, scoring twice against Hull City and making the most of the opportunity given to him by interim boss Ryan Giggs last season. But the young England striker will find it hard to get games when the likes of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are all ahead of him in the pecking order.

That said, with rumours persisting that Javier Hernandez could be on his way, there may well be opportunities for Wilson to add to his United tally. And if he continues on his current trajectory, he could be a regular in the United first-team before he turns 20.

Top-scorer

This is a no-brainer considering the presence of van Gaal at United and the fact that everyone expects one striker in particular to thrive under the Dutchman. Robin van Persie may not have had the best of seasons under David Moyes, but expect that to change now his former Netherlands boss is in charge.

Back van Persie to finish as United’s top scorer but Wayne Rooney to give him a run for his money.

Final league position

If United sign two new centre-backs and Arturo Vidal, they could win the league. But if van Gaal is frustrated in what remains of the transfer window, Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal could all finish above them.

I am going to put my neck on the line and suggest United will get the players they need this summer, but will still be beaten to the Premier League title by an impressive Chelsea squad.

United to finish: 2nd

What do you think the new season has in store for Manchester United?

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