Van Gaal given perfect platform for United start
Louis van Gaal will be able to ease himself into his new role as Manchester United manager after he was given an early boost with the release of the Premier League fixture list.
Although the Dutchman is vastly experienced in Europe, he has never managed in England before and his knowledge of the Premier League will be largely superficial at this stage.
He will have to learn about most of his Premier League rivals as he gets to grips with galvanising a United squad only good enough to finish seventh back in May, just 12 months after Alex Ferguson had retired following yet another title success.
As a result, the 62-year-old, who will leave his job as Holland manager after the World Cup, will be pleased to find he has been given a gentle start to the season. United start their new era with a home game against Swansea and a visit to Sunderland, before a trip to newly promoted Burnley and a home game against another side returning to the top flight, Queens Park Rangers.
They complete a hat-trick of fixtures against sides who were in the Championship last season when they entertain Leicester and Van Gaal will hope to build crucial early momentum in contrast to his predecessor David Moyes.
Moyes, was handed a daunting start in the manager's chair at Old Trafford 12 months ago, with a home game against Chelsea followed by trips to both Liverpool and Manchester City in their opening five league games of the season.
The first tricky test for United comes at home to Everton on October 4, and Chelsea and Jose Mourinho travel to Old Trafford on October 25. That is followed by tough trips to face Manchester City and Arsenal, but Van Gaal will hope to have adapted to his new surroundings by the time they face their main rivals for silverware.
United will also be keeping a close eye on the German World Cup camp where midfielder Toni Kroos congratulated Thomas Mueller and Philipp Lahm on their contract extensions with Bayern – but announced he is no closer to committing his own future to the club.
Kroos, who has been linked with a move to United, is still far from agreeing new terms. He has already turned down Bayern's first offer and suggested more acceptable terms, but the German champions have yet to reach a compromise with the 24-year-old.
"There's nothing new to report," Kroos said yesterday. "With respect to the time before the World Cup, nothing at all has changed. If anything does happen, then you will all find out."
Kroos is still tied to Bayern until 2015, but should no new agreement be reached there may be a temptation to sell the former Bayer Leverkusen midfielder this summer rather than potentially lose him on a free transfer next year.
For United, the target will at least be the Champions League but local rivals City have the chance to win their third title in four years and they begin their defence with a home game against Newcastle, who they thrashed 4-0 in their first game of last season.
Manuel Pellegrini's hopes of defending the title he won in his first season at the Etihad Stadium will be severely tested early on with home games against Liverpool and Chelsea inside the first month of the campaign, as well as Arsenal away.
Arsenal have a relatively gentle start to the season, at home to Crystal Palace, but their proposed improvements will be put under intense scrutiny with trips to Everton and Chelsea before the end of September, as well as a north London derby against Tottenham Hotspur.
Chelsea will be content with their start to the season. They start away at Burnley and at home against Leicester before facing Everton and City away from home either side of a home game against Swansea. (© Daily Telegraph, London)