While most pundits are looking towards Premier League champions Chelsea and maybe the other half of Manchester for this season’s title winners, we think the title is heading United’s way.
1. Wayne Rooney is the main man
No player has been a victim of his own versatile skillset quite like Wayne Rooney has. Rooney is a striker – you only need to see him shoot to know that – but his hard work, strength and passing ability mean he’s been useful to to his various managers as a winger, midfielder or false nine over the years. Now though it seems he’s going to get a full season as a proper frontman. That means United will get the best out of him, and he can get back to the sort of form which saw him getting 25-plus goals a season a few years ago.
2. Louis van Gaal is a calm and rational influence
First there was his dossier to disprove Sam Allardyce’s claims of long-ball football. Then there was that concise and level-headed speech at United’s end-of-season dinner. Now he’s calling his players by the wrong name. Van Gaal is exactly the kind of focused, unflappable character United need to lead them on a title challenge.
3. This is Louis van Gaal’s team
It’s tough to judge any manager on their first season – especially when that manager went straight from a World Cup to managing a new team with barely time for a few days off. Nobody will be quick to make excuses for Van Gaal this season – but he shouldn’t need any made for him. This is his team, his players, his tactics – he has to get it right this time.
4. United have sorted out their recruitment policy
Last season, United threw money at their squad by splashing the cash on players like Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao when what they really needed to do was sort out their defence. What’s more, they were accused of turning their backs on their tradition of nurturing young, homegrown talent in the process. This year they’ve sorted all that out by signing inexpensive, up-and-coming, British centre-backs like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin.
5. THAT midfield
Okay, so there may still be doubts about the team’s defence – and even its identity – but you can’t question that midfield. World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger is exactly the the player United have been crying out for (as long as he’s not past his best), Memphis Depay should provide a youthful spark (assuming he can reproduce his Eredivisie form in the Premier League) and Morgan Schneiderlin might prove the closest thing they’re likely to get to Paul Scholes (although he remains unproven at a big club).
6. The opposition
Whatever you think of United’s recruitment, there’s certainly nobody in the league who’s done any better. We don’t think any Manchester City, Arsenal or Liverpool fan could say with a straight face their team has improved as much as United’s. Chelsea certainly haven’t – the only problem is, they didn’t need to. They were streets ahead of everyone else already.
7. The statistics say so
Since the top flight went down from 22 to 20 teams in the 1995/96 season, no team finishing outside the top four has gone on to take the title the following season. That means it was literally impossible for United to win it last season. Now, with a top-four finish under their belt last season, they are primed to march to glory. That’s pretty much science.
8. It’s just time they won it
Since the 1992/93 season, the longest period United have had without a Premier League title is three years. They’ve been two seasons without winning it now, so history suggests this team – which has had a remarkable ability to reinvent and regenerate itself – can’t be far away now.
9. The new Adidas kit