Defeat in Sunday’s Manchester derby consigned United to their fourth consecutive loss to City, the clubs worst run in the fixture since 1970. It is also the worst start the team have made to a season since 1986/87 when Ron Atkinson’s side’s dreadful form ushered in the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson.
On paper, the outlook is bleak. Indeed United are now four points worse off than at this stage last season under the ill-fated tenure of David Moyes, they are also yet to win away from home this season. However, the green shoots of recovery have started to show in the last few games that Louis Van Gaal is beginning to stamp his mark on the club.
There is very rarely a quick fix in football and a team that has dominated British football for the last two decades cannot expect to continue to do so after the departure of arguably the greatest manager in the history of the game. There has to be a transitional period and whether it is David Moyes or Louis Van Gaal in charge, it will take time to get it right and build a successful team.
Since he took charge, Van Gaal has set about laying the foundations for United to be successful again in the long run, the highly anticipated clear out took place in the summer with several players moved on, although it has to said that it is a wonder that Anderson is still at the club when he probably should have been sold about three or four years ago. Others may yet follow and it begs the questions as to whether Chris Smalling may be one of them, could his sending off against City prove to be the final straw after a string below par performances in the past couple of seasons? Time will tell but you have to wonder whether he is a player of United’s calibre.
The players brought in have been good, but will take time to gel. Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, Marcus Rojo and Angel Di Maria are all great players who will be approaching the peak of their careers in the next few years while Luke Shaw is a left back for a generation and has the potential to develop into a world class player. Radamel Falcao also should weigh in with his fair share of goals once he catches fire and there’s always the option of sending him back to Monaco if things don’t work out.
Despite spending over £150 million on new players, Van Gaal hasn’t abandoned the clubs philosophy of bringing through and developing young players. Both Paddy McNair and James Wilson featured against City, Tyler Blackett has also featured in recent weeks and it’s good to see the manager isn’t afraid to play his young guns in important games. A mix of young players brought through the ranks and world class talent could be the blueprint for United to be a dominant force once again, just look at the side of the nineties!
Wilson in particular is an exciting prospect, having amassed a remarkable number of goals in the reserve and youth team. The young striker has featured a couple of times off the bench this season and you get the feeling that he would benefit from hitting the back of the net once or twice to give him the belief that he belongs at the top level. A loan spell to a Championship club in the second half of the season would also maybe be beneficial to give him experience of scoring goals on a regular basis in a first team environment.
The form of David De Gea has been another huge positive in the last year and a half, I think it’s fair to say that he’s now in the top ten goalkeepers in the world and he has the potential rival Peter Schmeichel and Edwin Van der Sar as one of the clubs greatest keepers if he keeps progressing at the same rate. Gone are the days when a skinny young boy looked jittery and made regular errors, he is now an assured presence in between the sticks, once again making several important saves against City to keep United in the game. A solid goalkeeper is the backbone of any great team and De Gea has the potential to be the best in the world given time.
Another thing that has become apparent in the past couple of games is the never say die attitude may be slowly returning, United snatched a point deep in injury time against Chelsea with a Robin Van Persie goal to spark memories of the many comebacks of Ferguson’s time in charge. They also had City on the back foot for the last half an hour on Sunday, admittedly to no avail, but you have to remember the team only had ten men on the field, including a defence which contained two midfielders and two teenagers against the Premier League champions.
Manchester United have begun to show promise in their last few games and have once again given their fans hope, a wonderful thing that was missing through large parts of last season. The season ahead may not be a smooth ride but there is no reason this team can’t make the top four once they hit form and string a run of wins together, an FA Cup run wouldn’t be a bad thing either.