The 2015/16 English Premier League season promises to be an eventful one for Manchester United and their fans. With an eccentric, unpredictable Dutchman at the helm and an abundance of exciting new signings, the season really could go either way. The uncertain nature of the Red Devils makes them a difficult team to predict for the upcoming campaign. However one thing that is for certain is that Louis van Gaal will be expected to improve on last season's 4th place finish after spending heavily in the transfer market once again.
Without any Club football occurring over the European Summer (and the Australian Winter), the transfer window is the thing that keeps many fans drawn to the game. This was certainly true for Manchester United supporters who have again seen their team spend heavily in preparation for the new campaign. With the added bonus of Champions League football this season United has strengthened their squad depth while also adding a vital piece of experience.
The first signing comes in the form of Dutch excitement machine Memphis Depay. Depay, 21, is a highly rated talent who made his name for PSV in the Eredivisie. He was employed as a left-winger at PSV, often cutting inside onto his right-foot and unleashing lethal strikes on goal. However early pre-season signs suggest that Van Gaal may be prepared to play Depay in a central role behind his main striker. The Dutch 'wonderkid' is praised for his pace, power, shooting, and set-piece ability. Although he will have to continue to work at all other aspects of his game to grow into the player he promises to be.
While the signing of Depay is an exciting one for United, his arrival has been trumped by the capture of German midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger. Schweinsteiger has previously worked with Van Gaal when the Dutchman was in charge of Bayern Munich. His move to Old Trafford is a big coup for the Red Devils and has already generated genuine excitement amongst fans. While some critics have argued that the German is past his best and has a questionable recent injury record, his experience in big matches will be crucial in the Champions League and in matches against fellow EPL title contenders. Schweinsteiger is the complete holding central midfielder, possessing great vision, range of passing and ability to read the game.
United's midfield, which has long been the weakest component of the team, is further fortified by the arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton. At 25-years-of-age the Frenchman is a long-time proven EPL player with the Saints and is preparing to enter his peak years with Manchester United. While his arrival has not generated the same fanfare as Schweinsteiger his importance will perhaps be even greater. Schneiderlin is technically sound and can both defend and attack at an extremely high level. He has the potential to be United's most important signing this transfer window.
Finally, the Red Devils have also signed goalkeeper, Sergio Romero, from Sampdoria. While the future of David De Gea remains uncertain many assume that Romero has been brought in should the Spaniard decide to leave. However the more likely scenario is that Romero has joined to replace the other Spanish 'keeper, Victor Valdes. Romero is a decent shot-stopper but an expert with the ball at his feet - a skill that Van Gaal highly values. Although his weakness of dealing with crosses/long-balls is something that will be exposed in the Premier League.
Arrivals: Memphis Depay (PSV), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin (Southampton), Matteo Darmian (Torino), Sergio Romero (Sampdoria)
Departures: Tom Cleverley (Everton), Ben Amos (Bolton), Tom Thorpe (Rotherham), Nani (Fenerbahce), Robin van Persie (Fenerbahce), Reece James (Wigan), Rafael (Lyon)
It's pretty obvious that United's strength is their goalkeeper, David De Gea. De Gea saved United many points last season and was, arguably, the sole reason they reached the top four. While he was already a very good performer in the previous season he enhanced his reputation even further in 2014/15. De Gea now ranks comfortably alongside Manuel Neuer and Thibaut Courtois as the best goalkeeper's in the world. His command of his area has improved, along with his aerial ability and his anticipation off the line. Of course his shot-stopping is already arguably the best in the world. If United can keep hold of De Gea then they will be putting themselves in a very good position to challenge for the Premier League crown.
Oddly, United's other strength comes in the form of its midfield. As mentioned, the Manchester United midfield has traditionally been a weak spot and was neglected by Sir Alex Ferguson for a long period of time. This was especially tough for Michael Carrick who was essentially being asked to play the role of two players. While Carrick battled manfully it was clear to Van Gaal when he arrived that the engine room needed reinforcements and an upgrade. The Dutch manager now has a plethora of options he can rotate through this area, and if they all click then United has the potential to form the best midfield in the league. With Carrick/Schweinsteiger holding and Schneiderlin in the box-to-box role they appear to be solid defensively. Injecting Juan Mata or Ander Herrera in the central attacking role will also give the team a potent offensive threat.
While many argue that Manchester United's weakness is in the defence this is not necessarily true. Despite there not being a 'world class' name among the back four, they work rather effectively as a unit. United only conceded 37 goals last season, giving them the 4th best defence in the league. In fact their weakness is located at the other end of the pitch, where the pressure on Wayne Rooney's shoulders is immense.
The sale of Robin van Persie has left Wayne Rooney as United's only real quality forward. While Javier Hernandez has EPL experience Van Gaal doesn't appear to rate 'Chicharito' all that highly. Furthermore, James Wilson is still developing as a striker so expectations on him must be kept realistic. This leaves a lot of responsibility on Rooney to produce goals. Although he has done this before in the central striking role, Rooney has not scored over 20 league goals since 2011/12 but will be required to do so this season. Whether the United captain can achieve this is yet to be seen and if he suffers an injury it leaves United desperately short of quality attacking threats.
The expectations among many United supporter's seem to vary. Some are expecting a title challenge, while there are many others who think the team is only capable of replicating last season's 4th place finish. A lot will depend on Wayne Rooney's ability to stay fit and how he operates as being United's lone-striker once again. While van Persie was not the same player United signed in season 2012/13 when he left, he still contributed a handy 10 goals last season from limited appearances. His absence will be felt should Rooney miss an extended run of games.
There are also great expectations on Van Gaal to perform ahead of this weekend's season opener against Tottenham. Despite finishing 4th last season there are still doubts over his ability to be United manager. Aside from a good two month spell last season which included victories over Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester City, United were inconsistent for the majority of the campaign. In particular, the Red Devils were extremely poor away from home; winning just six matches. This will need to be addressed for United to make any significant progression up the table.
The money Louis van Gaal has spent over his two seasons in charge means United really should be competing for the title. The signing of Schweinsteiger is definitely one for the here and now, showing that the Dutchman must believe his side is a chance of reclaiming domestic glory. Yet despite this the squad still appears to have some obvious weaknesses, something that is not as apparent in title rivals Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City. Due to this United will struggle to better last season's finish of 4th place.
One thing about Louis van Gaal that has frustrated many United supporters is his team selection. His tendency to play players out of position, and favour certain others, often appears to be a huge detriment to the team. Here is how United should set-up at the beginning of the season.
David De Gea
Matteo Darmian -- Chris Smalling --Phil Jones -- Luke Shaw
Michael Carrick -- Morgan Schneiderlin
Juan Mata -- Wayne Rooney -- Memphis Depay
Subs: Romero, Rojo, Young, Pereira, Schweinsteiger, Januzaj, Blind
First Five League Fixtures
8th August - Manchester United vs Tottenham Hotspur (Old Trafford)
15th August - Aston Villa vs Manchester United (Villa Park)
22nd August - Manchester United vs Newcastle United (Old Trafford)
31st August - Swansea City vs Manchester United (Liberty Stadium)
13 September - Manchester United vs Liverpool (Old Trafford)
What are your thoughts on Manchester United for the upcoming season?
Can they win the title?
Where are the weaknesses in the squad?
Who are the Key Players?