Premier League | Old Trafford | Sat 16 Aug | 12:45pm
The beginning of the mend: can LVG succeed where Moyes failed?
MAN UNITED FORM
- Man Utd 2-1 Valencia (F)
- Man Utd 3-1 Liverpool (F)
- Man Utd 3-1 Real Madrid (F)
- Man Utd p0-0 Inter (F)
- Man Utd 3-2 Roma (F)
- Swansea 0-3 Villarreal (F)
- Reading 1-3 Swansea (F)
- Bournemouth 3-1 Swansea (F)
- Exeter 0-2 Swansea (F)
- Plymouth 0-4 Swansea (F)
And so it begins. United's fans have mourned the 2013/14 season in which silverware became an impossible dream; they've seethed as hated rivals found both success (City) and acclaim (Liverpool). Now the club steps into a new era. Enter King Louis: a tactically-robust and mentally-indomitable figure with all the credentials to be a hit.
This, then, is LVG's first test, and boy, are there questions to be answered. The first is whether he can motivate an under-performing squad into a force capable of challenging for titles. Pre-seasons hardly lend themselves to cast iron predictions, but several encouraging performances - twinned with whispers on one or two exciting potential transfers - already hint at an improvement on United's <<Annus Mareus>>. The reality is this, though: the title is between City and Chelsea; United are a long way off.
If only Swansea shared the same problems. Having secured safety from the drop last year, rookie manager Garry Monk has since endured the headaches brought on by struggle, not to mention a transfer window in which his players have actively thrust themselves into the marketplace. Lob Swansea's defensive frailties into the mix and this season could be another peek towards the abyss.
Defender Ben Davies and goalkeeper Michel Vorm have already jumped ship to Spurs (the latter replaced by Arsenal benchwarmer Lukasz Fabianski); striker Michu has gone out on loan.
Meanwhile, striker Wilfried Bony used his World Cup playing hours to pique the interest of any suitors currently looking to strengthen their attacking power.
Should he stay, Bony's working relationship with impressive Colombian winger Jefferson Montero will prove decisive in Swansea's effectiveness this season, and that, sadly, will determine the security of Monk's position.
Much of the chatter surrounding United's pre-season fixtures have focused on personnel and formations under the new manager. Van Gaal is likely to stick with a 3-5-2 shape that has featured Phil Jones and Chris Smalling at the back, though new signing Luke Shaw has been ruled out for a month.
Meanwhile, captain Wayne Rooney has looked hungry despite his underwhelming World Cup. But with Robin van Persie having only returned to training, the job could fall on Danny Welbeck to partner him, despite being left out of United's last pre-season game through minor injury.
It's clear that Monk is intent on strengthening Swansea's back-line this summer, having spoken to Napoli about their highly-rated Argentinean centre-back Federico Fernandez. The good news, should this deal be completed, is that Fernandez holds an Italian passport and will sidestep any work permit issues. The bad is that he's only recently returned to training. Ashley Williams will line up alongside either Kyle Bartley or Jordi Amat in the middle. Midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, newly signed from Spurs, will add some creative thrust.
Key battle: Wayne Rooney vs Ashley Williams
History suggests Van Gaal's a manager who's open to bringing former heroes in from the cold. His willingness to invest in Van Persie (having dropped him in his first match as Holland manager) later paid dividends. And so it could be again with Rooney, where working with a trusting manager will bring the best out of him.
Williams, meanwhile, will have to be at his industrious best to lock down United's attacking pivot. Swansea's rearguard is weak; weaker following the departures of Davies and Vorm. Should Rooney and his team-mates arrive at this game in effervescent mood, Swansea's defences will be breached.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- United 2-0 Swansea (PL, Jan 14)
- United 1-2 Swansea (FAC, Jan 14)
- Swansea 1-4 United (PL, Aug 13)
- United 2-1 Swansea (PL, May 13)
- Swansea 1-1 United (PL, Dec 12)
Interesting times for Monk, these. Having been brought in from the playing personnel to save Swansea from the drop, his successes have been rewarded with a stint at the helm for another season.
Problem is, times are tough on Swansea and their easy-on-the-eye football wilted under the air miles of Europa League football last year.
It's up to Monk to develop some steel and style within his squad if they're to avoid another fraught campaign.
Where to begin with LVG's task? Prickly enough to cow a media pack and shrug away the external pressures that seemed to weigh heavily on David Moyes, his job is now to remould United into a major player - both at home and abroad. He has the smarts for sure, though it's safe to assume Van Gaal's ambitions will be in the long term: 2014/15 is a platform on which to build; next year is where his work will be best judged. Still, someone might need to warn Old Trafford's Twitterati.
Facts and figures
- United have won 6 of their last 9 on the opening weekend of the Premier League season (D2 L1).
- Danny Welbeck has scored 3 times in his last 2 league games against Swansea.
- Swansea ended last season with a goal difference of zero, only the fifth time a Premier League club has done this (1992-2014).
More FFT Stats Zone facts
LVG and Rooney to get off to a flier. 3-0.