It has been a season of few positives for Manchester United. If one really tries to eek out a couple encouraging signs they could point to the lively input of youngsters Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, as well as the almost inevitable brilliance of David de Gea - arguably now their only world-class player. But overall, 2015/16 has been something of a damp squib for the Red Devils.
Despite coming into the club on a wave of egotistical magnetism, Louis van Gaal has little to show for his time at Old Trafford, that is, if you discount his brilliant drunken performance at the club's Player of the Year Awards at the end of last season.
Despite having some of the deepest pockets in world football, United seem unable to spend their way back to the upper echelons of the game, so just what is there now to look forward to for fans of the Red Devils? Have Manchester United finally fallen away from their pedestal? Will they forever languish in the mire of upper mid-table? Put simply, the answer to those last two questions is 'no' - they will find a way back.
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And they could start climbing back to the summit again as early as next season. There are some good signs to take from this campaign which not many spectators seem to be paying too much attention to.
The big games
The first thing that should be taken note of is their mightily impressive record against the top six - both the traditional six sides (Arsenal, Chelsea, City, Spurs, Liverpool and United) and the current top six of the Premier League (Leicester, Spurs, Arsenal, City, West Ham and United). This season is almost reminiscent of Chelsea's 2013/14 campaign, the one before they romped to the title last term.
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Although the Chelsea side of that year performed better overall than United have this time around, in both examples the two teams showed that they could beat the best but struggled for consistency against the smaller sides.
This term United have taken 18 points from nine games versus the traditional top six, while they have also performed well against the actual top six, with 14 points from their seven games so far. So Van Gaal's men can match the best in the Premier League, they just need to start turning up against sides they are actually supposed to beat.
The Red Devils have lost eight games in the league this season, though they were perhaps only expected to have lost one of those, which was a 3-0 away defeat to Arsenal. Defeats to Swansea, Bournemouth, Norwich, Stoke, Southampton, Sunderland and West Brom have seen United slip down the table, but if they had taken the expected reasonable points from these fixtures then it could have been a different story.
With even just ten points snatched from these seven eminently winnable fixtures, United would be up there with Leicester and Spurs. With a bit more consistency, Van Gaal could have a title-challenging side on his hands. Some United fans may be calling for Jose Mourinho to take over as manager over the summer break, but what they fail to realise is that Van Gaal's 'philosophy' has actually metamorphosised into something that has more than a whiff of Mourinho about it.
United have ground out Mourinho-style results in six of their nine league outings against the established top six this campaign. Some will say that they were forced into this because of a lack of quality within the side, but when a team does this so often, it is more than likely that they meant to do it rather than as a matter of fortune. If Jose Mourinho had achieved such results, he would be lauded for his big-game management tactics.
Results against top sides are not the only factor that looks positive for United going into next season, as they also have a few players who will more than likely make a significant step up next year. Memphis Depay - still only 22-years-old - is yet to show what he can really do in a United shirt and you could almost forgive him if he has already all-but written off this season, in the depths of his mind.
Unusually, the majority of the Dutchman's strikes have come in European competition, with five from his nine starts across the Champions League and Europa League. Memphis has only found the back of the net twice in the Premier League, but if he can find a way to replicate his continental form back in England then United will have a potent attacker on their hands - something they have sorely lacked this year.
And it is not only Memphis that van Gaal will be looking for an improvement from next term. Both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford have burst onto the scene and although it would be foolish to expect either youngster to set the world alight as early as next season, it does mean that the Dutch boss has more options to choose from up top.
A lack of squad choices is something that the manager has struggled with at times this season, as United have had to deal with a number of injuries for most of the campaign. The most notable of these was Luke Shaw's broken leg, just as the young full-back was looking to build up a head of steam. But a list of more niggly ailments has also afflicted United's season, with Phil Jones, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Wayne Rooney, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo all spending time on the treatment table.
It's no secret that a lengthy injury list links almost directly to a reduced points total, so it would not be too outlandish to suggest that United can scale higher up the league next term if they keep can keep the number of afflictions to a minimum.
Then, of course, comes the fact that United still remain as one of the richest football clubs in the world and they will undoubtedly flex their financial muscle once again in summer. But at this crucial stage of evolution under Van Gaal, what is needed is an evolution rather than the revolution that would occur under the likes of Jose Mourinho. If the Portuguese manager came in then United would have to start all over again, essentially rendering the last two years a complete waste of time.
Although United seem to have been stuck on hold ever since Sir Alex Ferguson departed the club in 2013, if you scratch beneath the surface, there are more positives to be taken than appear at a cursory glance of the situation. United could be on the verge of something great looking to next year. Perhaps they will not immediately return as table-toppers and feared European giants, but anything is possible. Manchester United are a club rich in both cash and history - the sky really still is the limit.
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