Why Manchester United Will Return to Premier League Glory This Season

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2014

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 12:  Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal is congratulated by the fans after winning his home debut in the Pre Season Friendly match between Manchester United and Valencia at Old Trafford on August 12, 2014 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Premier league glory is something that Manchester United know pretty well. Sir Alex Ferguson's United sides have lifted 13 of the 22 titles up for grabs since the English top-flight was re-branded.

As a consequence of all that success, "Premier League glory" has had a fairly straightforward definition for United fans: winning the trophy. Under Sir Alex, almost any season United did not win the league was, to a greater or lesser extent, perceived as a failure.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 12:  Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with his players and the Premier League trophy following the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Swansea City at Old Trafford on May 12, 2013 in
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Last season's spectacular implosion has reset expectations somewhat.

After finishing seventh under David Moyes, getting United back into the Champions League is Louis van Gaal's first priority. Given the size of the challenge, that represents "glory" of a sort. Doing it in style, and seriously competing for a chance at the title, would count as an excellent season.

United's successful pre-season has been a cause for optimism. Of course the results have helped, but those can be explained away fairly easily—it is, after all, only pre-season. However, it has been the manner of the performances that suggests some version of glory will be back at Old Trafford.

ANN ARBOR, MI - AUGUST 2:  Ashley Young #18 of Manchester United celebrates his first half goal against Real Madrid during the Guinness International Champions Cup at Michigan Stadium on August 2, 2014, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty I
Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Ashley Young's goal against Real Madrid was emblematic of the "new United." Beginning with Danny Welbeck recovering possession with a typically high-energy intervention, United conducted a free-flowing passing move that was as pleasing to the eye as it was effective.

Again, only pre-season, and yet there is every cause to believe it can continue into the season ahead. Van Gaal's much-vaunted 3-4-1-2 system has been constructed to make most effective use of the resources available to him.

Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Robin van Persie can, in theory, all be deployed in the same team, in their favoured positions. There should be ample playing time for Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa, providing cover and a plan B.

Adnan Januzaj offers yet another dangerous option, potentially able to fill in for any of the front three.

That is a collection of firepower that few teams can match. United's switch to a more fluent style of play should get the best out of them in a way Moyes' functional football was never able to.

Uncredited/Associated Press

Midfield remains United's most problematic area. Ander Herrera looks to be a superb addition, but he cannot do it alone. There are question marks looming over each of United's other midfielders.

Michael Carrick has missed pre-season through injury, is now 33 years old and had a poor season last time out.

Tom Cleverley's woes are well-documented.

Darren Fletcher has faced a serious chronic illness and has done remarkably well to play football at the highest level again. He has been excellent in pre-season, and he will hope he is able to continue in that vein when the real stuff starts.

Marouane Fellaini and Anderson have reportedly been told to find a new club, per Simon Jones and Sami Mokbel of the Mail Online

If United bring in another midfielder of similar quality to Herrera, a serious run at the league title seems very possible.

If they do not, much will depend on his fitness. An injury to the former Athletic Bilbao man already looks as if it would be a disaster. There is no other single player in United's squad upon who so much depends, with the possible exception of David de Gea.

PASADENA, CA - JULY 23:  Chris Smalling #12 of Manchester United heads the ball away from Baggio Husidic #6 of the Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on July 23, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Even if additions are not made, Van Gaal's switch to a back three provides a supportive platform that can compensate for some of the midfield troubles.

Each of United's first choice back three are comfortable carrying the ball forward to provide options for retaining possession. Defensively, there is enough quality and quantity to win the ball back should United's midfield be overrun.

Cover is needed there too, however, as relying on Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans to stay fit all season would seem an extremely risky gamble. Assuming no new signings are made, Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane would be required to make the step-up to first-team football.

The only alternative would be to deploy a midfielder, perhaps Carrick or Fletcher. Both have played the role before and will be much better suited to providing cover in a back three than they would in a traditional centre-back pairing.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - AUGUST 04:  Jordon Ibe #33 of Liverpool under pressure from Luke Shaw #28 of Manchester United of the Guinness International Champions Cup 2014 Final at Sun Life Stadium on August 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Tro
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

There is also a potential issue with squad depth in the wing-back roles. Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia look likely to be first-choice for the positions. With Rafael da Silva apparently set to leave the club, per the article above, replacements are thin on the ground.

Other than Ashley Young, it is hard to see who would step up given injuries or loss of form.

United's first XI is a match for anyone in the league. There are significant issues with squad depth, but the transfer window remains open, and perhaps there will be further activity to addresses this.

Even if there is not, the potential is there for a side that is fun to watch and that will score a lot of goals and not concede too many.

Injuries could deal a severe blow to United's chances, but if they can be avoided then a new, more tempered, version of glory will be back at Old Trafford.

And with a couple of key signings? Well, then the Premier League trophy may find itself returned to a very familiar location.


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