by Andrew Henderson
Manchester United seem to be undergoing something of a resurgence right now, but I would argue that this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.
With Van Gaal coming in, it was always going to take time for United to settle and become a force again. He said we should give him three months, which was a mistake – and he admitted to that after three months had passed. It has to be remembered that he arrived at Old Trafford late as well because of the World Cup. His pre-season was much shorter than most other teams, and he had less time to work with the players and impart his philosophy to the new group.
Just as much as it was always going to take time for the manager to adjust, so too was it going to take time for new signings to adjust to English football. United signed 5 players for the first team, 4 of whom came from abroad. 6 players also left the United first team, with more backup players also leaving. That amount of turnover is always going to lead to a period of transition, even if Angel Di Maria did hit the ground running.
It may be getting tiresome to hear, but United have also been hit by an unprecedented amount of injuries. Angel Di Maria went off on Saturday for their 41st injury of the season. And they have been missing some big players including their entire defence.
One player in particular was a big miss for them at the start of the year: Michael Carrick. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that since he returned to the first XI, United have looked much more organised, and much more solid defensively. He can organise the back 4, and he is an experienced and composed presence that often goes unnoticed.
Since Carrick returned to the starting line-up United have conceded just one goal in three games, compared to 11 in their previous 6. Two of those goals came in much improved performances against Chelsea and Manchester City though, even with Chris Smalling being sent off in the latter. To be able to keep the two teams most people expect to be challenging for the title at bay for the most part is extremely encouraging for United.
And the scary thing for the rest of the league is that they are going to get even better. Van Gaal has reverted to his favoured 3-5-2 formation in recent games, and it now seems to be working for him. The players are clearly more used to his style of play now, and better understand what is being asked of them than they were at the start of the season. Couple that in with a Wayne Rooney that looks back on form, a Robin Van Persie who is still more than capable of scoring screamers like he did against Hull, and an entire defence to return from injury – hopefully before the new year. United could be a completely different animal in 2015.