Two years ago, Manchester United were Champions of England for the 20th time in the clubs history but facing the prospect of life after Sir Alex Ferguson who had just announced his retirement.
Fast forward 2 years and 3 managers later, lets explore the journey we have been on, and how much further we have to go, to regain our title at the summit of English and European football.
We all know what happened last season, and the events of that disastrous campaign should not be be raked up too much. We got rid of Moyes, and brought in Louis van Gaal to try to get him to steer us back up the league table following his World Cup campaign with The Netherlands.
The initial target was to get our great club back into the Champions League, a competition we qualified for, time after time, then all of a sudden, Mr Moyes came along and we were made to realise how privileged we had been.
During preseason, United won all 7 games, including victories over Real Madrid and Liverpool on the way, and our top 4 aspirations were allowed to wander…could we waltz back to the top of the table?
The answer would reveal itself quickly enough when we got down to the matter of Premier League football. Defeat on the opening day against Swansea, followed up by a 0-0 draw at Burnley as well as 5-3 away reverse to Leicester made us realise that there was still much work to be done.
United added 6 new signings to the squad, with Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Marcos Rojo joining the big name signings of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao. There was a whole host of departures too, with Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, Tom Cleverley and Nani leaving on permanent or loan deals.
It would of course take time for the new look side to gel, but United would have hoped for much more than the meagre return of 13 points from the opening 10 games, especially considering the teams they played.
United were also hit with the most horrendously crippling injury list. Youngsters Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair were the most notable to benefit as they were drafted in to cover the deep and gaping holes at the back.
Falcao was still recovering from his ACL injury that kept him out of the World Cup, but United fans were genuinely excited about the prospects of when he would finally start firing.
The results slowly began to come in as van Gaal tinkered with his squad and formations. We began with the 352, then the 442 diamond, 442, back to 352 and finally to van Gaals favoured 433.
Some of van Gaals choices seemed baffling. Van Persie played on despite not being effective, Rooney played in midfield, whilst Ander Herrera and Juan Mata sat on the bench for match after match.
The return of Michael Carrick, who had been out for quite some time saw an upturn in Uniteds results. His calming influence and efficient ability got United moving back up towards the hallowed Top 4.
United hit their ruthless best during March and April. A run of challenging fixtures against had United fans concerned. But the famous ‘philosophy’ seemed to have clicked.
Tottenham were the first to get smashed. A 3-0 home victory where Moyes’ flops, Fellaini, Mata and Young seemed up their game and dominate the clueless Tottenham side. The impressive football was continued as we beat Liverpool 2-1 but in truth the scoreline flattered the visitors. Uniteds expansive and attractive game totally dominated our Scouse neighbours.
A 3-1 victory over Aston Villa came next and was followed up by an even more dominant performance over the Noisy Neighbours, Manchester City. A 4-2 victory at Old Trafford left United believing that the faint hope of the title was still on.
Sadly, those faint hopes were extinguished the following week. United totally dominated against league leaders Chelsea, but were beaten 1-0 at Stamford Bridge as the blues provided the blueprint for success against van Gaals boys’ possesion based game.
All the hard work that United put in, all unraveled at the end of the season. The final 6 games yielded just 5 points and 3 goals as the opposition used the blue print set out in that Chelsea game, to stifle Uniteds strengths.
Uniteds hopes of Champions League qualification wobbled towards the end, but they got over the line and into the qualification round due to the ineptitude of Brendan Rogers’ Liverpool side who finished with an even bigger wimper than that at United.
It is clear that van Gaal has improved Uniteds style, performances and results but much is left to do. Some United fans will celebrate the 4th placed finish. However, we are not Arsenal. Champions League qualification should be the standard for us. The title will be our next goal. United still have much work to do to bridge the gap to Chelsea and City.
The likes of Fellaini and Young have starred in big games this season, but you feel that with Fellaini in particular, it has been a means to an end. With Champions League football confirmed next season, United must strengthen in all departments.