Louis van Gaal has rarely been a man to shirk responsibility. Less than a month into his Manchester United tenure the former Netherlands manager is set to call time on those fringe members of the squad who have failed to impress during the Reds’ successful summer tour. With no European football in the coming season, van Gaal is thought to be happier working with a relatively small squad, meaning that while United could yet add to the club’s playing staff before 1 September, a clutch of players will be told they have no future at Old Trafford.
Speaking ahead the International Champions Cup final against Liverpool on Monday, van Gaal admitted that he will tell affected players shortly after United touch down in Manchester this week. The Dutchman has used 26 players in four matches against Los Angeles Galaxy, Roma, Internazionale and Real Madrid, with a further three World Cup stars given the summer off. Not all of them will survive the summer as United players.
The vibe in van Gaal’s camp is positive after a string of good results on tour, but with the veteran likely to use a senior squad of 22-25 players, augmented by those youngsters not sent out on loan, his squad is already over-stocked. Meanwhile, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward is attempting to tie up deals for a senior midfielder and an experienced central defender, assuming van Gaal retains the 3-4-1-2 system he has deployed on tour.
“I have let all the players play so I know now more than I did before,” said van Gaal on Sunday.
“I shall make judgments after the tour. In football you have to judge. Always you have to give a chance to a player to make a transfer when you see that his perspective is not so high to play. You have to say it in advance. When you say it on 31 August it’s too late. I shall say to the players what I think after the tour.”
The Dutchman is well stocked in goal with David de Gea certain to start United’s opening Premier League fixture against Swansea City on 16 August. Anders Lindegaard remains an able deputy, although the Dane could actively seek a transfer out of the club with first team prospects limited. Sam Johnstone is set to be offered an opportunity to impress on loan at Championship level, but Ben Amos, now 24, has surely played his last game for the club.
However, United remains light in central defence, where Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones will start against the Swans unless the Reds buy in the next fortnight. Elsewhere, 21-year-old Michael Keane may well have done enough to earn a place in United’s first team squad for the coming season, although the youngster was criticised for giving away a penalty against Real Madrid on Saturday night. Tyler Blackett has a United future, although the 20-year-old may well find that he is sent away from Old Trafford on loan in the coming season.
In Luke Shaw and Rafael da Silva United’s new manager boasts two attacking defenders that should prosper at wing-back, although Antonio Valencia has been given a new lease of life under van Gaal on the right. The left side is more troublesome, however, where Ashley Young has twice appeared at wing-back on tour. The feeling remains that the Englishman’s defensive game will be picked apart in more competitive fixtures should Shaw not immediately take to life in the Old Trafford spotlight. Youngster Reece James impressed on tour and could yet be included in van Gaal’s squad as a left-field left wing-back.
Indeed, if United is short of a player at wing-back, then central midfield remains the club’s glaring weak spot. Ander Herrera has done enough on tour to suggest the Basque will become a fine addition to United’s squad, but doubts remain elsewhere. Darren Fletcher has impressed in the box-to-box role that many doubted the Scot could ever regain, although it has been four years since the 30-year-old completed more than 30 games in a season.
Meanwhile, Anderson will be sold, with the Brazilian having failed to impress during seven largely disappointing years at Old Trafford. The fee is likely to be less than £10 million as the player is entering the final 12 months of his United contract. The Reds will also take a fee for Marouane Fellaini if a buyer can be found before the transfer window closes, or farm the Belgian out on loan if a permanent move does not materialise.
However, there is less certainty over Tom Cleverley’s future. While the 24-year-old has regularly featured on tour – even captaining the Reds against Roma – the Englishman’s career has stagnated over the past two years. Michael Carrick will be retained, not least because of the Englishman’s experience, although the former international is unlikely to feature before the autumn sets in.
The future is less rosy for Nani, who is unlikely to feature in van Gaal’s plans at all, not least because the club has long since resolved to sell the errant Portuguese winger. Neither is the former Sporting player an obvious fit for any of the roles in the Dutchman’s new system.
Despite scoring twice against Madrid at the weekend there is little to suggest Young will feature in one of van Gaal’s three forward positions either, leaving the 29-year-old seeking a role at wing-back. Meanwhile, United will sell or loan Wilfried Zaha despite positive noises from the player that he is ready to make an impact at Old Trafford after a £15 million transfer in 2013.
In the number 10 role van Gaal is well served, as the Dutchman pointedly noted last week. Juan Mata has seemingly locked down the position, with Shinji Kagawa a talented deputy, although United’s new manager has mooted the idea of moving the Japanese playmaker into a deeper role. The club could yet take a fee for Kagawa if Borussia Dortmund, Atlético Madrid or any other suitor comes forward with a bid.
Meanwhile, Adnan Januzaj will enjoy a freer role than the touchline hugging winger dictated by David Moyes’ one-dimensional approach. Wayne Rooney could, at a push, drop into the deeper role seen under the Scot , although the Scouser has played in a more conventional forward role during the summer; one that may yet bring more out of a player who flattered and deceived under a Moyes’ fawning leadership.
Elsewhere, Jesse Lingard will be sent out on loan again, with his Old Trafford future in more doubt after the summer than before it, while United will probably accept bids for Nick Powell, who missed the tour through injury.
Up front Rooney and Robin van Persie will seemingly become United’s preferred strike pairing, although the Dutchman misses the season’s opener. In his absence Danny Welbeck will feature more often in a central role than in the past, although Javier Hernández has not yet been shown the Old Trafford door. Welbeck started each of United’s games on tour, with van Gaal seeming impressed by the Mancunian’s rounded game.
Elsewhere, a clutch of youngsters hope for a long-term future at the club even if van Gaal has no immediate first team requirements. Will Keane joined United’s tour party, but can hope for a little more than a loan move before the window closes. Angelo Henriquez will be sold or offered a fresh loan deal, while Tom Lawrence and James Wilson, who made first team debuts under Ryan Giggs at the end of last season, will be sent out on loan as part of their long-term development.
Rant’s verdict: United’s 2014/15 squad
Certain to feature: De Gea, Rafael, Shaw, Smalling, Evans, Jones, Carrick, Fletcher, Valencia, Herrera, Rooney, Welbeck, van Persie
Under scrutiny: Lindegaard, M Keane, James, Cleverley, Young, Kagawa, Hernández
Out-the-door: Amos, Nani, Anderson, Fellaini, Zaha
Loaned out: Johnstone, Blackett, Lawrence, Lingard, Henriquez, Wilson, W Keane
Required signings: wing-back, central defender, central midfielder