Known as one of the biggest clubs in the world, Manchester United find themselves out of the elitist Champions League and struggling in the Premier League.
The Red Devils finished a disappointing 7th place last season after lifting the trophy, and winning by 11 points the previous year. From that moment it has been downhill for the Old Trafford club, whose revenue has taken a blow due to their absence from European competition.
The downhill slide
The retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson marked the end of an era at Old Trafford after 26 and a half years with the legendary Scot at the helm. Former Everton manager David Moyes was the man chosen to lead the way into the new era but the 51-year-old failed miserably and was sacked just nine months after his appointment.
Dutch master tactician Louis van Gaal was appointed as the new manager, with club legend Ryan Giggs his assistant to repair the damage done. It started well for Van Gaal as he enjoyed an excellent pre-season tour where they defeated Liverpool to lift the International Champions Cup.
However, after 11 games in the season the Red Devils are in 7th position with just 16 points. Before the start of the season it seemed United would have had a good run due to their fixtures, with all three promoted teams in their first six games.
However they only picked up four points from those 3 games, while they lost at home on the opening day to Swansea City. Van Gaal has overseen mixed performances and results, but his job is a lot more difficult than the football world imagined. Here is a look at the problems that he faces at Old Trafford.
Whilst United were famous for their attacking prowess under Sir Alex, the Old Trafford faithful witnessed a totally different style under Moyes. His teams were set up not to lose and rely on the counter attack, which is far from the United way.
Many senior figures at the club opposed the manager, which caused a rift in the dressing room because they were getting bad results. The Theatre of Dreams lost its heir of invincibility as teams would go into games thinking they could get a positive result.
The confidence in the team plummeted to an all-time low and it was mostly evident when the team went behind in games. They were known for their never-say-die attitude before that. but their heads would drop as the strong character that had been associated with the club seemed to have evaporated with Sir Alex.
This is the first issue that Van Gaal will have to address. He will have to try and get the players to first believe in themselves and then in each other. He will have to instil a positive mind-set in the team, which can take a very long time in itself. Despite signing some very good players the 63-year-old Dutch master must first remove the memory of Moyes which still hangs over the club.
Integration of new players
At the end of their miserable campaign last season it was expected that the club would make some big signings in the summer. There were worries that they would fail to attract world-class players due to the lack of Champions League football.
Despite this chief executive Ed Woodward and Van Gaal managed to sign six players in the form of Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao.
At first glance Di Maria and Falcao stand out as they are world class players on top of their game. Their spending went over £150 million, but what most fail to recognise was that five of the six players were from other leagues.
This is important to point out because despite spending big money on these world stars, they may take a bit of time to settle in and really find their feet. On several occasions fans and experts would point to the struggles of the Red Devils after the money they spent but it goes a lot deeper than that.
Time and time again we have seen top players take a lot of time to adapt to the chaotic nature of the Premier League while others just simply couldn’t come to terms with its pace and physical nature.
Van Gaal learned his trade in the ‘Total Football’ era in the Netherlands, which makes him a teacher and supporter of attractive, attacking football. His teams are always dominant in possession, patient and utilize the width of the pitch.
He makes specific demands of his players, who are expected to carry out his instructions in a manner acceptable to him. He has fallen out with many of his players in the past because they fail to adapt his style so the superstars at Old Trafford have their work cut-out.
All the players that he has in his plans – old and new players – must adapt to his philosophy. It is totally new to them with the exception of Robin van Persie and Blind, and so will take some time to master. This means that the club’s board and the fans will have to be patient with the new manager and the players as they set out to try get the club back at the top where it belongs.
It doesn’t seem like United can catch a break this season. Rather it feels like every game a United player plays in he gets injured. It started from the World Cup, with rumours circulating that Van Persie was not fully fit despite being their talisman up front. The 31-year-old was substituted at some crucial moments in big games due to his failure to make an impact.
Michael Carrick suffered an ankle injury in the first training session conducted by the 63-year-old which kept him out for the first three months of the season, whilst Luke Shaw and Rafael also suffered injuries during preseason which kept them out of the first few games.
After 11 games, Van Gaal has 11 injuries going into their big match against Arsenal. Angel Di Maria suffered a knock in Argentina’s friendly against Portugal from a Nani tackle which leaves him doubtful for the Gunners encounter.
Van Gaal has used 37 players in just 12 games so far this season compared to 23 in 17 games used by Chelsea. In the heart of defence United have fielded 11 different partnerships, which is a major reason behind keeping just three clean sheets in 11 games.