After beholding a World Cup that defied the expectations of even the most patriotic of Dutchmen, Manchester United fans look upon their new manager with the same reverence and sense of awe that accompanied Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea.
Indeed, the incoming Van Gaal has brought the same sense of excitement that Luis Suarez brought Barcelona fans, or Alexis Sanchez Arsenal fans. However, that sense of excitement often brings with it an air of invincibility that, in turn, breeds complacency.
United fans have regained their swagger. With rival taunts regarding David Moyes behind them, supporters feel as they did during trophy-laden seasons.
In fact, fans are probably more excited and optimistic at the moment than they were after Cristiano Ronaldo’s breakthrough season at the club. Common to both cases is the belief that this coming season will be a successful one.
Alas, unlike the days during which the graceful Portuguese wizard ruled the left wing, United aren’t even considered a threat by the current title contenders. And with good reason.
This current United side is the same one that slumped to seventh place last season, minus three of the club’s most key players. Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw are solid players but neither of them will provide the immediate gravitas and sense of responsibility that the great Nemanja Vidic did.
A worse team?
How United let their central colossus leave while maintaining enough funds to pay Nani £100,000-a-week is anyone’s guess. With all these factors taken into account, one comes to the conclusion that on paper, United are even worse off than they were last year.
Much like the US stock market, United are in a bubble – an unrealistic sense of optimism fuelled by factors that neither support nor justify such a stance. In United’s case however, it’s easy to see where this overflow of optimism is coming from.
Better than expected pre-season results have brought back the feel good factor to Old Trafford. United have been winning games that they have no business winning based on last season’s form.
Three wins and a draw against top quality teams is nothing to scoff at, but fans need to remember that this is still pre-season. Few teams are actually taking the games seriously – pre-season results have little influence on the season itself.
However, United fans should be most worried about the fact that their own manager is partaking in the hype. Van Gaal said “We still have a month to go (before the transfer window shuts) and we are winning. Maybe we don't need other players."
More signings imperative
Even the most optimistic of United fans recognises that the current team doesn’t even come close to having the depth that their rivals do. To a neutral onlooker, it’s obvious that United need to bring in reinforcements.
While the hole in the midfield is the most frequently discussed weakness in the United team, the lack of depth and experience in the defence is arguably the most concerning. Among Vidic, Evra and Ferdinand, United are losing over 1000 games of experience.
More importantly, United are losing its only tried and tested defensive partnership in the centre of the park. Who knows how well Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, or god forbid, Evans, Jones, and Chris Smalling will play together.
If past indication has any correlation to future success, United fans will be soiling their pants at the thought of such a back-line. Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane, who has conceded two penalties in three games, look no better.
Sure, they are a young team, but few are going to wait around for five to ten years for United to be a top team again. United needs results now and the current defence aren’t going to get it. Two new big name signings are required at the very least.
The midfield looks a little better but still nowhere up to the quality of their rivals for a top four position. The combination of Herrera and Mata looks promising, but the question of who the third man will be is yet to be answered.
Recent team selection suggests it may be Darren Fletcher, who is a good player but cannot be mentioned in the same breath as Yaya Toure or Cesc Fabregas – true midfield maestros.
United fans aren’t drooling over the prospects of Michael Carrick or Marouane Fellaini either. Let’s not even mention Tom Cleverley.
Herrera needs a partner – ideally one with an endless supply of energy as well as an eye for a pass. Sami Khedira fits the bill, as does Arturo Vidal. Either of those two players would make United’s midfield competitive again.
Still reason for optimism
Out of the Champions League and embarrassed in the Premier League last year, United can’t afford to have another season like the past one. But misplaced exuberance could lead them to come unstuck.
Both the United fans and the manager need to remember that while pre-season has gone well, it still is just pre-season. The current United squad is barely good enough to challenge for a spot in Europe and certainly not good enough to gun for the title.
It’s a reassuring sign that United are confident heading into the season. For the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, United fans are very optimistic. They just need to make sure that their optimism isn’t misplaced. Without three signings at the very least, the bubble will surely burst.