Manchester United have enjoyed a pre-season to remember, but that in itself brings about something that’s easy to forget: it’s still only pre-season.
The air of vulnerability looming over the club during David Moyes’ ill-fated reign has been instantly replaced by that of cautious optimism since the arrival of Louis van Gaal. But while results have been positive in pre-season, it’s easy to get carried away.
It’s safe to say that perhaps with the exception of Manchester City, there are doubts about all of this season’s Premier League title contenders. Have Liverpool made too many signings? Will Diego Costa prove to be the striker Chelsea so desperately need? Will Arsenal make the two or three world-class signings they need to challenge?
And then come United and Louis van Gaal. It can’t have been an easy transition for the Dutchman. Coming straight from a major international tournament into your new job is strenuous enough, but when your new job is managing Manchester United, there’s always cause for nervous excitement.
Not to mention the state of the squad he inherited. Those who do possess the talent to wear the famous red shirt under performed horrendously last season, and those who don’t… Well, it’s unlikely they’ll be here for much longer.
Attitude problems on one hand, questionable quality on the other. And, put together, they’re likely to lead to one quite major problem.
Injuries often play a key part in a team’s season. None more so than Liverpool’s last term – their remarkable lack of absentees meant Brendan Rodgers could keep the core of the squad together for most of the campaign, meaning the football they played for the most part resembled that of United teams of the past.
And United may well wish for similar luck this time around – they’ll need to, considering just how threadbare the squad will be. If, as is reported, the likes of Nani, Anderson, Kagawa, Hernandez and Fellaini are all sold, it would take a Herculean effort by van Gaal to replace quantity with, well, quantity.
Players like Ashley Young, who was rumoured to be on his way out of Old Trafford this summer, have stepped up to the plate. From a personal perspective it’d be sad to see Kagawa leave, as he’s been underused and, when played, often played out of position.
But the much bigger problem is the exodus of players this summer. Signing Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera is all well and good but United need another four quality signings at least to be considered serious contenders.
Squad depth was an integral part of the latter stages of Sir Alex’s reign. The quality of a team’s bench is often a measure of the quality of its squad, but at the moment both quality and quantity are severely lacking.
As starting elevens go, United’s isn’t bad. But it’s not a starting eleven that wins you titles.