Leading up to Sunday's game at Old Trafford, I chatted a bit with Alexander Netherton of SBN's The Busby Babe about Manchester United. He also chatted with me about Arsenal, which can be found here. Here are my questions to Alexander and his answers:
TSF: Are United supporters happy with Louis van Gaal so far?
TBB: Many appear to be, but that's because many Manchester United fans are some of the worst in the world. They are convinced that he is the man to bring them back to the glory days with nothing but a copy of Football Manager and hundreds of millions of pounds. Others are more circumspect and have seen initial optimism curtailed by tactical conservatism expressed through almost incredibly dull football. Most of them are satisfied with fourth place but expect a healthy improvement next year when he has a transfer window he can fully control - he presumably understands what an utter clown Ed Woodward is, and so has done more extensive scouting than last year. A very small amount think Van Gaal is a total chancer and want him out, but they are wrong, if only because there's nobody else worth giving it to.
TSF: From an outside perspective,this year for United seems to be a case of "get the ball to Fellaini, and on the other end de Gea will stop everything". Is this the case?
TBB: Not really. The long ball thing has been overplayed, perhaps because Jonathan Wilson wrote about it and so it was treated as fact. There have been a fair few long balls to Fellaini, but not exactly at the expense of trying to keep possession and find room for crosses towards other players, and also most of United's success on the counterattack didn't involve long balls to Fellaini. Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are an effective partnership on the right-hand side, and Ashley Young with Daley Blind or Luke Shaw has been a handy way of advancing down the pitch. The problem is the quality of the strikers, or at least their movement, and the lack of creativity in the middle of the pitch, which is something Fellaini's presence stifles. David de Gea is brilliant though, obviously.
TSF: What do you see as van Gaal's long-term plan for the way United play?
TBB: More of the same, I hope quicker, with better players. That he's after Memphis Depay and was keen on Angel Di Maria at the start of the season, is interested in Nathaniel Clyne and some younger players suggests that's what he's looking for. I would imagine we'll dominate possession as we have done against almost every team, but have the players and confidence to do something with it. Put an exciting few players in the current system, with better defenders and it might be enough to get second place, if not higher.
TSF: Possibly related: Other than Memphis Depay, what are the main areas United will look to strengthen this summer?
TBB: If De Gea goes then I expect Tim Krul or Asmir Begovic to be the back up for Victor Valdes. Nathaniel Clyne or another right-back will turn up because Rafael can't be trusted on a football pitch, and Antonio Valencia can only be trusted to do the most boring thing imaginable, and his one-footedness is driving us all to distraction. There will have to be another midfielder to replace Fellaini, who just isn't good enough for a title challenge, and another to replace Michael Carrick either in the short and/or long term. Ideally as soon as possible, because while not the biggest defensive weakness in the side, his lack of brains and mobility costs United a fair few goals every season, but he's weirdly protected from that criticism because of the hyperbolic attacks on him from other people.
Another midfielder will be needed with the added European games, too. Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo will turn up if they're available, I imagine, because Woodward absolutely loves to show off big signings. In attack I would expect another striker to replace one or both of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao. Right now, I one to leave and a younger player to arrive, allowing James Wilson to have a year out on loan.
TSF: Is United going to be a title challenger next year, or will they settle for being the next recipients of Arsene Wenger's Fourth Place Trophy?
TBB: I think that Chelsea can make the signings to ensure that none of the other teams can really challenge for the title. As for finishing above Arsenal, I think if Wenger really doesn't think that he needs to make many more signings, then he's a fool, but there's no point believing what any manager says in public. Arsenal aren't anything special, the annoying thing is that right now, they are still clearly a much better side than United. It all depends on transfers in the summer, and whether Van Gaal is actually going to give talented players the permission to attack regularly.
Thanks to Alexander and The Busby Babe for taking the time to chat.