Manchester United started off the summer as one of the most active – and shrewd – clubs in the world. By the time the Reds crossed the pond and arrived in the United States for their Guiness-backed preseason tour in late July, the team had already signed Bastian Schweinsteiger from Bayern Munich ($22 million), Memphis Depay from PSV ($31 million), Morgan Schneiderlain from Southamtpon ($38 million) and Matteo Darmian from Torino ($19 million).
But as the minutes tick by and we get closer and closer to the close of the summer transfer window, the grade on Louis Van Gaal’s report card continues to drop. Since Van Gaal sealed the aforementioned moves, which were all viewed as pretty good pieces of business, he’s had to sell Angel Di Maria to PSG ($67 million) at a $13 million loss after the Argentine spent just one season at Old Trafford, and the David De Gea situation has completely evaporated, with Van Gaal dropping the Spanish star for new-signing Sergio Romero while also refusing to sell De Gea to Madrid. Now it seems like Romero may be United’s first-choice keeper all season long while also not capitalizing on the sizable fee that they could have gotten from Los Blancos for the Spanish international.
What’s worse is that United have swung and missed on several top talents, the most damning of which was former Barcelona forward Pedro Rodríguez, who was instead scooped up by defending champion Chelsea because United, one of the world’s three richest clubs, haggled over a $30 million buyout fee that Barcelona were never going to budge on. On top of Pedro, whose presence would have added a perfect balance to the Red Devils’ attack, United have also been rebuffed on offers for Sergio Ramos, Thomas Muller, Gareth Bale and, most recently, Neymar.
While they seemed to have a real shot at snagging Ramos away from Madrid early on in the transfer for window, now it seems like United are making bids for untouchable players just so that nobody can accuse them of sitting on their hands as Pedro spurned them for the Blues and as bitter rivals Manchester City splurged for Wolfsburg talisman Kevin De Bruyne (this on top of their previous splurge for Raheem Sterling, England’s most expensive player ever, just over a month ago).
At the very least, United’s new signings have looked decent in the early portions of their respective United careers. Schneiderlin has been solid in midfield and has done a good job organizing play, Darmian has looked a capable Premier League defender and Romero has been excellent in goal, allowing just one goal in five matches between EPL and Champions League play. Memphis netted a brace and assisted on two in United’s 7-1 thumping of Club Brugge over two legs in the Champions League playoff round, although he’s still looked a bit shaky in league play as he attempts to adjust to life in the Premiership. Schweinsteiger has been less impressive as he attempts to finding his footing in a United shirt. The former Bayern man has yet to play more than an hour in any of his five appearances this season, and at his age you have to wonder if there will ever be a point where he will be a consistent member of Van Gaal’s Starting XI.
Speaking of that Starting XI: If the start of the season is any indication, there’s little reason to believe that United will be a serious title challenger during this campaign. If the transfer window closed with the Premier League season kicked off, than maybe United would be closer to the the rest of the pack, but with Chelsea snagging Pedro and City adding De Bruyne, it would appear as if the top two finishers from last season have set themselves up for another mano-a-mano race for the title.
Through three league games, United have only mustered one goal – a decently taken finish by Adnan Januzaj, whom Van Gaal promptly criticized in the postmatch press conference, in the sides’ 1-0 win at Aston Villa. Their other two results were a 1-0 win at home against Tottenham opening day thanks to a Kyle Walker own goal and a scoreless draw against Newcastle last week despite finishing with a sizable gap in possession (66-34) and shot attempts (20-7). The flip side, of course, is that the Red Devils have yet to concede a goal in league play, which is a testament to the fine form of Luke Shaw, Chris Smalling, Darmian, Romero and Daley Blind, who has handled the switch to centerback quite well thus far.
But with the creativity and talent that Van Gaal has in his lockerroom, as well as the amount of cash he has to spend to bring in some attackers that can get him goals, one goal out of three games is not an acceptable output. After experimenting with Depay as the #10 against Spurs and then surprising us all with the insertion of Januzaj into the line-up against Villa, it’s clear that Van Gaal isn’t 100% comfortable with his team selections. Pedro would have solved a lot of issues for LVG, as he would have instantly earned a starting spot on the right flank, allowing Mata to slide into the #10 role, where his lack of pace would be less of an issue and where his vision and passing would shine brightest, Depay to play on the left-hand side, which allows him to cut in on his right foot, and for Rooney to have a bit more support up the field.
But with Januzaj in the hole and Mata forced wide, Rooney hasn’t had much joy linking up with his midfielder partners, and the English international was struggling mightily to get off the mark as the lone striker before fetching a much-needed hat trick against Club Brugge on Wednesday. There were hopes of Rooney surpassing 20 league goals this season now that he’d have the lone striker spot all to himself, but based on current form, it seems like United will need a more creative and pacey player on the right to help Rooney reach that mark.
With the kind of money that he has at his disposable, it is entirely possible that Van Gaal has a blockbuster transfer up his sleeve as the deadline nears. If the Dutchman were able to swing a move for Schalke’s Julian Draxler or Southampton’s Sadio Mané before the final tick of the clock, then perhaps United’s season will be upswing by New Year’s.
But short of a major move in the coming days, United will be entering the fall portion of their schedule having been outshined in the transfer market by major rivals City and Chelsea. And with a lack of homegrown talents sprouting up, if the Red Devils want to return to the glory days they experienced under Sir Alex Ferguson, that has to change.