Manchester United fans must keep expectations realistic

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Manchester United fans will be absolutely delighted with the progress made during a pre-season tour of the United States, with Louis van Gaal clearly restoring confidence to a revitalised squad which has managed to put together a five-match unbeaten run under the guidance of an experienced coach with a clear long-term plan.

Van Gaal has done little to dampen expectations among Red Devils fans throughout a string of glamorous friendlies against the likes of Inter Milan, Roma, Real Madrid and Liverpool, but this isn't the right time for United followers to revise their expectations and expect trophies galore at the Theatre of Dreams this season.

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Still wholesale changes to be made

United supporters need to remain realistic about what constitutes a successful debut season for Van Gaal, particularly with only two major signings added to squad which fell woefully short of the high standards set by the Premier League's most successful club.

Van Gaal must be under no illusions that United still need to invest heavily in a number of positions, particularly central defence.

Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have both moved on and not been replaced, just yet anyway. Add that to Van Gaal's preference for a 3-5-2 system and its clear United need to go out and sign a top, established centre-back as part of a £100 revamp, or at the very least one with Premier League experience.

Further forward United are certainly not short of potent playmakers and clinical finishers, but in central midfield there's definitely a lack of dynamism to match the more reserved, methodical figures of Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher.

Outgoings still essential

It's also impossible to dispute that now the adventure across the pond is over and Van Gaal's had time to assess the first-team squad a number of misfiring stars will have to leave, if nothing else to make way for the Dutchman's preferred transfer targets.

The likes of Wilfried Zaha, Nani, Javier Hernandez and Anderson need to be shipped out as a matter of urgency if they don't feature in Van Gaal's first-team plans, otherwise United risk repeating a trend Arsenal created of having Nicklas Bendtner-sized misfits with no future on the clubs books.

Top-four is just the ticket

Progression has to be the buzzword at Old Trafford this season, both in terms of results and a transformation from the archaic playing style which failed to spectacularly under the likeable but dour David Moyes.

Van Gaal will get United playing entertaining football again, of that I have no doubt, but winning the Premier League after finishing 22 points off the pace just a year ago is too much to ask.

A return to Champions League football is the minimum requirement and would represent a job well done for Van Gaal with a view to chasing down bitter title rivals 12 months down the line, regardless of how exciting the likes of Luke Shaw and Wayne Rooney have been during the last fortnight.

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