Premier League 2015-16 season preview: Manchester United

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Last season, the goal for Manchester United was a top-four finish and berth in the Champions League. Both of those were accomplished as the Red Devils head into the 2015-16 season with their sights set on bringing silverware back to Manchester.

[ MORE: All of PST’s season previews ]

United have won a record 13 Premier League titles, but after finishing seventh in the league in 2013-14, David Moyes was sacked and Louis van Gaal was brought in to start a new era at the club. Van Gaal has spent massively to bring in top talent for his side, and improvements have been made heading into his second year in charge.

Crosstown rivals Manchester City have finished above United on the table in three of the past four seasons, as the Red Devils will have to overcome Chelsea and Arsenal as well if the PL trophy is to return to Old Trafford.

Best possible XI:

— De Gea —

— Darmian — Jones — Blind — Shaw —

— Schweinsteiger — Schneiderlin —

— Mata — Depay — Young —

— Rooney —

Transfers in: Sergio Romero (Free, Sampdoria), Matteo Darmian ($18 million, Torino), Bastian Schweinsteiger ($22 million, Bayern Munich), Morgan Schneiderlin ($40 million, Southampton), Memphis Depay ($40 million, PSV Eindhoven)

[ MORE: Full schedule for every PL club ]

Transfers out: Robin van Persie ($6 million, Fenerbahce), Radamel Falcao (season-long loan, Chelsea), Tom Cleverley (Free, Everton)

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League
Rooney scored 12 league goals last season, his lowest output since 2011.

Last season: Fourth place in the Premier League — The goal last season was to get back into the Champions League, and that goal was accomplished. It took a bit of time for Louis van Gaal to implement his system, and injuries forced some to play out of position for stretches of the season. At the end of the year, United was back in the Champions League after their worst ever Premier League finish in 2013-14.

Star player: Wayne Rooney — The captain is currently the third all-time leading goal scorer for Manchester United, and at just 19 goals shy of Sir Bobby Charlton for the record, Rooney could end the season as the greatest scorer in club history. Last year, injuries forced Rooney to play in a midfield role for certain parts of the season, but when he was placed back in his preferred spot at striker, his production rate shot up. Now with Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao gone and Chicharito’s status at the club uncertain, Rooney and 19-year-old James Wilson are the only true strikers on the Red Devils’ roster. That means all the pressure is on Rooney to come up with the goals when United need them most.

Only trophies will bring a smile to Louis van Gaal’s face this season.

Coaches’ Corner: Louis van Gaal is entering his second season as a manager in the Premier League, and now Manchester United is officially “his” team. The Dutchman was given a massive budget to bring in the players of his choosing, and has had time to develop his system and tactics with the side. Always an interesting press conference, Van Gaal has a way of dancing around questions with his quick wits and wry humor, which can be both entertaining and frustrating at the same time. Now that he got United back to the Champions League, LVG will have his focus on trophies in the 2015-16 season.

PST predicts: The Red Devils will be looking at a finish towards the top of the table. After finishing fourth last season, the fans at Old Trafford want silverware and will hope to challenge the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City for the Premier League title. There is some debate as to whether or not United is a legitimate contender this season, but there is no doubt that they are still one of the elite clubs in the world.

Rumored Neymar for Bale swap: Who wins?

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Who would gain more of an advantage from the rumored, sensational Gareth Bale for Neymar swap: Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid?

Both players are currently problems for their clubs, though neither is known as a true rabble-rouser; Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane wants to be done with the newly-minted 30-year-old Bale, while PSG knows Neymar wants to leave and would love to satiate Kylian Mbappe’s appetite to be the man at their club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

Presumably some money would be headed PSG’s way in addition to Bale, and both clubs would be getting a motivated megawatt star.

Neymar doesn’t turn 28 until February, but the difference in age may be offset by the Brazilian’s track record of injuries.

In fact, his injury status last season combines with an off-field accusation of sexual assault and a red card for confronting a fan to overshadow his production: Neymar’s 23 goals and 13 assists in just over 2300 minutes last season, including five and two in the Champions League (and a goal and an assist against defensively-stout Liverpool).

Bale presents very few personality challenges, and PSG won’t have a problem with his massive wages (especially with Neymar off the books). His numbers have dipped in two of three seasons since his otherworldly 2015-16, but La Liga is a more difficult scoring league than Ligue 1.

Neymar has twice been a Ballon d’Or finalist and, presuming his legal troubles don’t persist, could be a title fight changer in La Liga. Imagine the Neymar, Eden Hazard, and Luka Jovic trying to outgun Lionel Messi, Antoine Griezmann, and Luis Suarez? Insane.

We’d say Real would be winning the straight-up swap, and that it’s pretty unlikely to go down that way. So it depends what PSG does with the relative Financial Fair Play freedom that would come with the money that also arrives from Spain. Is it Idrissa Gana Gueye? Someone else who helps take PSG’s Champions League hopes to the next level?

Manchester United in ‘concrete talks’ with Lille over Pepe

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Manchester United are reportedly in “concrete talks” to agree a fee with Lille for much-tracked playmaker Nicolas Pepe.

The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has been linked with Liverpool and Arsenal amongst others, and Lille has admitted he’ll be leaving the club.

[ REPORT: Man Utd, Leicester agree Maguire fee ]

United’s reported salvo was around $87.5 million. He’d give them a star who could play across from Anthony Martial or as an attacking midfielder under Romelu Lukaku.

Only Kylian Mbappe and Teji Savanier garnered better season-long ratings than Pepe in the 2018-19 Ligue 1 campaign, and Pepe’s 22 goals and 11 assists stand out from the pack. Only Mbappe had more goals and only Savanier more assists.

Pepe has four goals in 11 caps for the Ivory Coast, and made three starts in Les Elephants’ five-match run at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations. He’s a fit for the Premier League, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s system. And if the Red Devils can keep him from Liverpool, well, all the better we’re sure.

Report: Manchester United, Leicester agree to monster Maguire fee

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Manchester United and Leicester City have agreed a fee for Harry Maguire, clearing the way for the English center back to join the Old Trafford set.

That fee is a whopping $100 million, according to Bleacher Report’s Dean Jones. That’s about $4 million more than the world record for a defender, set when Liverpool purchased Virgil Van Dijk from Southampton.

[ MORE: USMNT CB to West Ham? ]

Maguire has been a statistical monster for Leicester City, and he passes the eye test, too.

Manchester United has needed to upgrade its stable of center backs for some time, and now the biggest question is who will work best alongside the 6-foot-4 26-year-old.

The former Sheffield United, Wigan Athletic, and Hull City defender is now 20-times capped by England.

The move could have a ripple effect on the Premier League, as the Foxes have been expected to bid for Burnley star James Tarkowski should Maguire leave the King Power Stadium.

Transfer rumor roundup: USMNT’s Long to London, Newcastle linked with pair

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Could USMNT center back Aaron Long be headed to the Premier League?

The 26-year-old could join West Ham United’s stable of center backs, which includes Issa Diop, Fabian Balbuena, and Angelo Ogbonna.

Sky Sports says that the Red Bulls defender has drawn the interest of Lyon and Fiorentina, but been offered to the Irons should they match his $5 million release clause.

Unable to find a place with Portland and Seattle, Long spent a few seasons in the USL before earning a place with RBNY.

Now 11-times capped by the USMNT with two goals, Long could be bringing his talents to London’s Olympic Stadium.

Elsewhere in the Premier League, Newcastle United has the chance to sign oft-injured Danny Welbeck on a free transfer.

The longtime Arsenal striker, weaned at Manchester United, scored five times in 12 matches last season in a return to injury woes following a 43-match season the prior year.

Newcastle is also being linked with a former defender. James Tavernier has gone on to captain Glasgow Rangers, and the 27-year-old would cost around $10 million.

Surely Steven Gerrard would want more for the defender, but prices haven’t met quality for Scottish Premiership players as we’ve seen with Kieran Tierney at Celtic.