THE BIG MATCH

Overhaul holds key for Manchester United ahead of EPL opener

Manchester United's Memphis Depay is congratulated by teammate Wayne Rooney after scoring in a friendly.
Manchester United's Memphis Depay is congratulated by teammate Wayne Rooney after scoring in a friendly. PHOTO: AFP

Hints of deja vu for van Gaal's men, but they must make amends for last term

The scenario is familiar. The opening Premier League game of the season will be staged at Old Trafford. Manchester United are in the midst of an overhaul, hoping for a distinct improvement on the previous year and widely expected to triumph.

So they were 12 months ago, when Swansea rather ruined Louis van Gaal's first competitive game in charge by winning 2-1.

Now United have another early kick-off. Tottenham are the visitors and van Gaal could give league debuts to his four main summer signings - Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian.

But, a year on, United have learned that excellent pre-season results may still count for nothing. They beat Real Madrid last summer and Barcelona this summer but neither result amounts to a guarantee of Premier League points.

Van Gaal spent much of last term lamenting a poor start, when a return of just 13 points from the opening 10 games cost them any realistic chance of a title challenge.

If August seems to offer United an opportunity to accrue points, their September and October games look tougher. The danger, once again, is that history repeats itself.

There is one element of repetition they would welcome. When Spurs visited Old Trafford in March, United produced arguably their best display under van Gaal.

Tellingly, Angel Di Maria was suspended then and, while he has only left this week, it marked the beginning of life after United's record signing. Yet that 3-0 win was orchestrated by Marouane Fellaini, who is banned today .

Depay, smaller and more prolific, represents a very different kind of No. 10 and United have undergone a midfield makeover.

Schweinsteiger, whose fitness was questioned by Pep Guardiola this week, is likely to begin on the bench.

Not so the other newcomer. Schneiderlin's blend of energy and quality made him an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino's Southampton side. The Argentine wanted to sign the Frenchman for Tottenham last summer. Twelve months on, there is still no doubt he would improve their midfield.

Instead, Pochettino's attention has been focused on bolstering a defence that conceded more than relegated Hull's last season.

At least Hugo Lloris is fit after breaking his wrist last month. The Frenchman has been touted as a potential replacement for David de Gea. Instead, neither goalkeeper has moved clubs.

This will be the first meaningful examination of how De Gea, United's reigning player of the year, reacts to being denied a move to Real Madrid.

But United were thwarted in their attempts to sign Real's Sergio Ramos and the lack of a new central defender is one reason why they look a work in progress.

Yet so do Spurs, whose pre-season schedule appears so mismanaged that they only arrived back from Munich 48 hours before today's kick-off. That, as much as van Gaal's signings, offers an opportunity to United.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'OVERHAUL HOLDS KEY FOR UNITED'. Print Edition | Subscribe