As we draw closer and closer to this season’s end, not many can dispute the fantastic turnaround in form and fate enjoyed at Old Trafford for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United, who find themselves in a strong position amongst the league’s elite top-four. Following a torrid campaign for the club which left them without European football in 2014, the most decorated club in Premier League history have managed to, against the odds, force their way back into the Premier League title conversation.
As fondly as United fans may end up looking back on the 2014/15 campaign for their fantastic turnaround, we look at it as a phenomenal building point for what is sure to be an entertaining and promising 2015/16 campaign for the club synonymous with titles, trophies and success. The 2014/15 Premier League season’s oohs and aahs are set to be some of the most crucial in the history of the Premier League’s most historic club.
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The derby wins are back
There’s no hiding that United were falling way below their expected level last season, but they would have perhaps been given more patience from their supporters were there more positive results in the big derby matches. United lost home and away to both Manchester City and Liverpool in the last league campaign, which would have been very difficult for the fans to take, but this time around the pendulum has swung towards the Old Trafford side again, in both respects. The defeat at the Etihad in November appeared to trigger the change in form for the Reds, having since beaten Liverpool twice and taken City to task last week. No matter how prestigious a club is, it’s these games that matter most to the fans and they do a world of good for morale across the club.
They survived a huge injury crisis
There were concerns raised in the summer that United were lacking numbers defensively, and it proved to be a serious issue for several weeks. The likes of Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Rafael, Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and stand-in centre half Michael Carrick all had spells out towards the end of 2014, and yet United managed to improve their form. United traveled to Arsenal with a back three of Paddy McNair, Tyler Blackett – both brought into the senior setup this season – and Chris Smalling, and were expected to be heavily beaten but van Gaal’s side got all three points, the second of six straight league wins over the November-December games when so many of the senior defenders were out. It’s hard to imagine their rival clubs riding out such a tough period, and indeed United’s ability to do so may end up being their biggest achievement this season.
They’ve won many games when playing poorly
One of football’s endless clichés is that winning when not playing well is the mark of a great team. We’ve certainly seen it from United sides before in title-winning seasons, but that would often only be once or twice in such campaigns. This year, though, there was a sustained period (including the aforementioned defensive crisis) in which the team were scraping wins without much glamour or indeed quality, which led to the club being continually underestimated. The side dismissed as lucky is now playing at a different gear, and has lost just twice in their last 22 league games. That run includes six wins in six and performances that are unarguably that of a top side.
Last season’s big signings are showing their worth
In the earlier stages of Manchester United’s campaign, when things weren’t looking as promising as they are now, there were a fair number of raised eyebrows in regard to the Red Devil’s summer signings and their impact on the club. The marquee signings of Angel di Maria, Ander Herrera and Daley Blind yielded a summer spending of over £100million and didn’t immediately generate the level of quality United fans will have expected from such high profile signings. As United began to find their form however these players became integral. Ander Herrera along with Juan Mata has become crucial to Manchester United’s attacking flow while Daley Blind has helped the side hold a more disciplined shape across the back line and Angel di Maria, although not quite replicating the height of his form at Real Madrid has certainly had games that have cemented his position as one of the most talented players in the division. As the season draws to a close and Man Utd’s form continues in it’s fantastic vein, we face the prospect of a new campaign with title ambitions and settled stars in di Maria, Herrera and Blind. A thrilling prospect.
A top two finish is within their grasp
After the seventh place finish last season, the all-important aim for this season was just to get back into the top four this term. Not only has the Champions League qualification all but been secured, but there’s every chance of a top two spot come the campaign’s close. Currently just a point behind Arsenal in second, the sides have to play each other at Old Trafford in a few weeks and United will feel that when it comes to overtaking The Gunners their destiny is very much in their own hands. Beyond that, if both United and Arsenal beat Chelsea in the next fortnight, and it triggers a slump at Stamford Bridge, they could even have an outside shot at the title!
Man City and Liverpool have opened the door
As the season started there were questions surrounding United’s eventual league position, less so for their drop in form but more for the fantastic summer’s enjoyed by the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as the phenomenal performances from the season prior’s eventual winners Man City and Manchester United’s bitter rivals Liverpool. Many pondered how long it would take for Manchester United to finally force their way back into what seemed a very strong top-four. As this season has shown however, both Manchester City and Liverpool have stumbled enough to not only allow United to once again challenge the crucial Champions League spots but to forge themselves a strong position amongst the league’s elite. Few will have predicted a top-three finish for Manchester United but thanks to their fantastic consistency and their rivals dip in form, Louis van Gaal’s men look in a strong position to challenge for the second or third spot in English Football and perhaps build on this season to mount a title push this time next season.
Old Trafford is still a fortress
Despite their at times questionable form this season, one thing has remained at Manchester United and that is the impact of a side visiting Old Trafford. With five losses in the Premier League this season and only two of those coming in their own backyard, Manchester United have managed to maintain their elite status whilst going through their transition. After an opening day defeat to Swansea at the theatre of dreams, many predicted the worst for this Manchester United side, since that 2-1 loss however, the Red Devils have succumb only to Southampton at home in the league when they suffered a 0-1 defeat to the South Coast side. Since then however Louis van Gaal’s men are yet to drop a point whilst at home, claiming six straight wins, including the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City. With Old Trafford still as strong as ever, this side has been allowed to find their form on the road and have with just one loss on their travels in 2015, coming again against Swansea.
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