Saturday 24 February 2018

Manchester United need five players to challenge for the title - Five things we learned from Old Trafford

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and his assistant Ryan Giggs complain to the referee
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal and his assistant Ryan Giggs complain to the referee

Mark Ogden

Louis van Gaal needs at least five players to compete for the Premier League title - and four other lessons from the season.

United have forgotten how to score

Wayne Rooney ended the campaign as United’s top scorer with just 14 goals, while Robin van Persie and Juan Mata managed just 10 apiece.

But for the contributions of Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera, who both bagged seven goals, United would have been in serious trouble in terms of achieving their ambitions.

For all of the attacking talent in the United squad, a return of just 62 league goals is a dismal return for a club supposedly challenging for honours.

United need to find at least another 30 from somewhere if they are push for the title next season.

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Big names do not guarantee success

United fans have demanded stellar signings to compete with Manchester City in recent seasons and they were finally granted their wish last summer.

But while Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao arrived to give United genuine star quality, and big reputations to match, both have been huge flops at Old Trafford.

Under Alex Ferguson and chief executive David Gill, United aimed to buy players on the way up, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney and all proved to be big successess.

But the ready-made superstars have fallen short this season and have proved that star names do not always come with a guarantee of success.

Van Gaal.jpg
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal

Brendan Rodgers was right - Van Gaal did find it harder than expected

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers dampened optimism of a United title bid last summer by insisting Louis van Gaal would be taken aback by the demands and competitive nature of the Premier League.

And although Van Gaal’s huge experience having managed in Holland, Spain and Germany, and at a World Cup, worked in his favour, Rodgers was quickly proved right with Van Gaal struggling to find a system that could succeed in the Premier League.

There have been many bumps in the road for United under Van Gaal, but while Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini can both claim to have won titles in their first season in England, Van Gaal never came close and Rodgers was right to warn of difficulties ahead.

Michael Carrick.jpg
Manchester United's Michael Carrick

United are five players short of a title challenge

Although United pulled off big wins against the likes of Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City when at full-strength, injuries to the likes of Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney left the team worryingly light on replacements and results suffered as a consequence.

So for all the progress made by Van Gaal, the United squad still appears at least five players short of competing with Chelsea for the title next season.

Priorities are a new right-back, commanding centre-half, quality cover and/or a replacement for Carrick, a striker with pace capable of scoring 20 goals a season and, with David de Gea set to leave, a top-class goalkeeper.

The holes in the squad are obvious for all to see, but filling them will not be easy.

This season has been a learning process

Louis van Gaal and his players have been back to school this season, with the squad forced to digest numerous tactical plans and formations - some with more success than others.

Several players have had their first taste of English football and struggled, while Van Gaal will embark on his summer holiday in Portugal armed with the knowledge that even relegation-threatened clubs such as Burnley, Sunderland and Leicester can make life difficult away from home.

In hindsight, too many players and coaches have been on a steep learning curve this season, but they will all be richer for the experience next term, when excuses will be in short supply.

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