Man Utd – Where we have been and where we are now

Sitting down after a win to write a blog is always easier than after a loss. Obviously. A year ago, United sat 9th in the table. NINTH. We had just lost to Everton and would lose to Newcastle United at the weekend. Both at home. David Moyes’ reign was a poor one, but Louis van Gaal seems to have reinstalled that winning mentality.Back then I had called for patience, for faith in the manager, for eyes on the long run. We all know how it turned out, Moyes got the sack and was replaced with van Gaal. And thank god for that.

And oh how much has changed in them 360-odd days. We’re no longer the laughing stock of the league. Last season’s pretty boys Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Luis Suarez and Danny Sturridge have all – for various reasons – disappeared from the limelight.

Chelsea are going to run away with the league title, yes. But after last year’s abysmal result it was never going to be about winning the league in LvG’s first season in charge. No, we couldn’t expect to win the league in 2015, but we could expect progress. And progress we are getting indeed.

Not only are we progressing as a team, but there are numerous players who are improving greatly on an individual level. Let’s take a quick look at some players I think deserve a special mention.

Chris Smalling was (rightfully) slated all over the Twitterverse after his two silly mistakes in the derby at the Etihad. What many glory-hunting fans managed to overlook however, is the fact that he has been our most consistent defender this season, and out of the last 6 league games he has started, we have lost merely one. He was immense against Arsenal, guiding Blackett and McNair with prowess and personality and scored his first goal of the season against Hull.

Marouane Fellaini. Last season, he was the embodiment of David Moyes’ reign at Manchester United. He looked overwhelmed, shaky and didn’t seem to be capable of playing a 10-feet pass.

A year later, with some help from Louis van Gaal, he’s been nominated for Manchester United player of the month in both October and November. A clear starter at the moment, and he has even been adding to his game recently.

Not much I love more than a player proving everyone (including myself) wrong.

Wayne Rooney. Eyebrows were raised when LvG announced his new captain. A few games in and those eyebrows rose even higher after Rooney got himself sent off in the game against West Ham. But since his return he’s been nothing less of marvellous for us. By far the best player on the pitch in the Manchester derby, he has since scored and assisted regularly for both club and country over the past 60 days, leading the team by example.

Ashley Young is perhaps the most improved player this season. Yes, that sounds bold, but think about it. The player everyone was desperate to see leaving the club has managed to reinvent himself as an attacking fullback/wing-back. Obviously his end product is still not as good as it might be, but compared to last season, he now looks fit to wear the Manchester United shirt. Yes – he’s not an ideal option for left back, but he played very well against Arsenal, and proved his worth as a deputy for Luke Shaw both defensively and going forward.

David De Gea. Well what is there to say? A few weeks into the season I told a mate of mine I thought De Gea was world-class. He looked at me with confusion in his eyes and told me that I was being silly. “Yes he’s good, but at 23, it’s impossible to call him world-class.” was the response I got.

Looking back I should have called bullshit with more urgency. If David De Gea isn’t world-class, then nobody is. Call me biased, but nobody having watched his performances can’t deny he’s right up there with Manuel Neuer. An amazing shot-stopper, and a fan favourite.
Only concern: His contract. I say get him tied down for the next 20 years as soon as possible. We’d be foolish to let him go. More foolish than letting Pogba go.

Yes he’s now only 24. But that doesn’t mean he’s not world-class. It just means he’ll get even better.

Daley Blind. In my opinion, United’s best player this season. He’s done so well. Obviously, Herrera, Rojo and Shaw in particular have also impressed coming in for their first season, but for me, Daley Blind is the anchor in LvG’s team. We’ve managed to get wins without him, but that’s only because Michael Carrick has found back to his form of 2012/13 and deputised so well.

Nobody does the dirty work as well and as quietly as the little Dutchman. Plus he’s got a goal or two in him as his finish against West Brom proved.

There are more players who have stepped up this term, of course, but those are the standout performers for me. So don’t slate me if I haven’t mentioned Mata’s goalscoring record, Di Maria’s genius or James Wilson’s maturity. I have noticed them, and I love them just as much as you do.

I just thought I’d get on with my blog.

Before I go on, I have to do some buzz-killing. Yes we’ve done well, and yes there are plenty of positive signs, but we’re getting euphoric over simple things. A home record of 8 games, 6 wins should be normal for Manchester United. It shouldn’t be something we celebrate. That should be normal, if not slightly worse than we’d want it to be.

Of course it’s easy to admire when you look at abysmal record of last season. But we’re just about starting to head back to the levels we were at, in an average season under Sir Alex Ferguson. There is still a lot of work to be done.

I’ve seen plenty of “back in the top 4, haters f*ck off, Man United are back”- Tweets recently. In my opinion that’s idiotic.

There’s only one spot in the top four that’s good enough for Manchester United. And as long as we’re not up there, I’m not satisfied.

People (Liverpool and Arsenal fans on Twitter, mainly) laugh and say United had the worst start since whenever and try and show us how van Gaal isn’t the saviour some fans make him out to be by showing us numbers and statistics.

But for me, at this stage it’s not about numbers. It’s about what happens out on the pitch. What pleases me at this stage is the mood around the club.

I remember struggling to cope with the fact that my team looked like a bunch of scared bunnies (with the exception of that beautiful man Paddy Evra when he scored *that* goal v Bayern) for the most part of the season. They looked the worse for where, lacking confidence and lacking ambition. That’s now a distant memory. The team spirit looks to be excellent, the Spanish-speaking fraction seems to be getting on very well and everyone appears to love working for Louis van Gaal.

I’m as confident as I haven’t been in months. Imagine David Moyes in charge of United for the Stoke game last night. Do you think we’d have won after conceding that equaliser? No. We’d have either managed a scrappy draw or even gone on and lost the game. But yesterday I wasn’t worried. Not one bit. When N’Zonzi scored I was positive that we’d end up winning the game.

We were of course desperately lucky to have De Gea towards the end, but all in all the players’ new found confidence shone through and thus I never doubted us ending up with all 3 points.

A Sir Alex Ferguson-esque trait. Promising.

Even more pleasing is the fact that that’s all happening with a ridiculous injury-record. I mean – against Arsenal (after 17’) our preferred back 5 was injured. Rafael, Jones, Evans, Rojo and Shaw were all unavailable. And we still managed to collect all 3 points and keep a clean sheet for 94’.

That gives me plenty of confidence for next season, when we’ll be more fortunate with injuries. Hopefully.

Another positive thing to report is the fact that out of all the players we let go this summer, the ones who are doing best, are merely loaned out. Shinji Kagawa has scored just one goal for Dortmund. Proof, that van Gaal was right to sell him.When Nani left, I wrote a blog on the matter (which can be found here)

In it, I said Nani – if played regularly – guarantees you 10 to 15 goals and assists per season. And with 6 goals and 6 assists in 16 games for Sporting he’s on his way to achieve just that.
Chicharito, another loaned out player has scored 5 and made 3 in 13 games for Real Madrid. Not half bad.

Also impressive are Angelo Henriquez’ stats of 8 goals and 3 assists in 15 games for Dynamo Zagreb, albeit he’s playing in a league which can’t really be compared to the Premier League.
So there are plenty of positive signs to help United fans fall asleep easily these days. Once again however, we’ve not yet reached the standards of a proper Manchester United team. We’re currently 4th. So it’s progress. But if we don’t see similar progress in a year from now, I’ll be mightily disappointed.

Let’s hope we can keep this run of good form up, especially in December, the perhaps most important month of the season.

Maybe give our bad luck with injuries to City or Chelsea, and a Top 3 spot becomes the very least of our ambitions.

Feedbacks are as always much appreciated. Also get in touch on Twitter @DilaMUFC

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