Manchester United — Are they Premier League title contenders in 2015-16?

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As the 2015-16 Premier League season gets ready to spread its wings this weekend, Pro Soccer Talk is getting you ready with a week full of projections, lists, news and views.

It has been exactly 836 days since Manchester United last lifted the Premier League trophy. For the non-mathletes among us, that means two PL seasons.

[ MORE: Season previews of all 20 PL teams

While that doesn’t sound all that long to someone who doesn’t support the Red Devils, that’s practically an eternity in Man United years.

Thus, the spectacularly expensive rebuild under the new direction of Louis van Gaal ($356 million spent in his two summer transfer windows in charge) has been universally welcomed by the Old Trafford faithful. But to what effect has the Dutchman overhauled an aging, stagnant squad and turned them into Premier League title contenders?

Van Gaal’s first transfer window, in the summer of 2014, could be described, largely, as a flop. He splashed out $99 million for Angel di Maria, who scored just three league goals last season and left the club for Paris Saint-Germain a year later, for a fee of $68 million — not only was Di Maria largely a flop while at Man United, he cost the club a loss of $30 million in just 12 months.

Van Gaal’s other big buys — Ander Herrera ($48 million), Luke Shaw ($45 million), Marcos Rojo ($27 million) and Daley Blind ($24 million) — all proved to be varying levels of “meh” in their first seasons at Old Trafford, as well.

[ RELATED: Petr Cech’s Arsenal arrival — the final piece for a real PL title challenge? ]

source:
Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger & Matteo Darmian

United’s signings in the summer of 2015 look to be less “this player is available, so we should sign him” (Di Maria) and more “this player fits a very specific need of ours, and he’s really good, so we should sign him.” That goes for all four of Van Gaal’s latest recruits — Memphis Depay ($48 million), Morgan Schneiderlin ($39 million), Bastian Schweinsteiger ($22 million) and Matteo Darmian ($20 million).

The problem with United’s title chances in 2015-16 is as follows: As outlined in yesterday’s piece regarding Arsenal’s title hopes, of the last 13 Premier League champions, all 13 possessed either one of, or both, the league’s top defense or attack, measured by goals conceded and goals scored.

United finished the 2014-15 season the fourth-best in both categories — five more goals conceded than Chelsea’s 32, and a whopping 19 fewer goals scored than second-place Manchester City. While that seems a daunting enough task in itself, there’s also a matter of the gap in points won — 17 — from last year’s winners, Chelsea, to United in fourth.

[ MORE: Predicting the final league standings — Who wins? CL places? Relegation? ]

While the Blues have largely stood pat this summer — the signing of now-former Man United striker Radamel Falcao being the lone exception — have United done enough to close a gap that vast? The simple answer is, “Probably not,” but then I begin to think deeper and wonder, “If not United, then who will challenge Chelsea for the title?”

source:
Memphis Depay & Louis van Gaal, Manchester United FC

The midfield is lightyears ahead of where it was last season — the trio of Scheiderlin, Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick will form perhaps the best two- and/or three-man midfield in the league — while Memphis, a winger/center forward hybrid, seems a much better fit than his departed predecessor when ask to play on the left and combine with Wayne Rooney. Depth is now an issue, though, with Robin van Persie departing and all signs pointing toward Javier Hernandez doing the same.

Then there’s the defense, which despite solidifying the right back spot with Darmian, still has a ways to go at left back (Shaw) and looks all but set on beginning the season with some combination of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Daley Blind at center back.

In brief summation, Man United’s 2015-16 title hopes: 3/10. Other non-Chelsea sides’ title hopes: 2/10.

Watch Live: PL Asia Trophy – Newcastle v. West Ham, Man City v. Wolves

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Manchester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers aim to collect a bit of silverware on the second Premier League Asia Trophy match day of the summer.

But first, a pair of Uniteds look to get off the map after beatdowns in their tournament openers.

Newcastle United and West Ham United were both walloped in Nanjing, and old hands Steve Bruce and Manuel Pellegrini would be happy to massage a victory out of their men.

Then Pep Guardiola and PL champions City get a taste of Wolves before their Oct. 5 meeting in league play.

Below is the full schedule for Saturday’s games in Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium.

Newcastle United v. West Ham United – 5 a.m. ET – STREAM LIVE
Man City v. Wolves – 7:30 a.m. ET – STREAM LIVE

WATCH: Zlatan stunner answers Vela’s opener in El Trafico

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is walking it like he talks it, not that that’s anything new.

A few days after claiming superiority over LAFC superstar Carlos Vela, Ibrahimovic and his Galaxy trailed early in El Trafico via a Vela penalty.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Naturally, Zlatan took it upon himself to answer the bell with his 14th goal in 17 games.

Ibrahimovic chests a long ball onto his right foot, cooking Eduard Atuesta by pushing it into position for a tremendous lash into the LAFC goal.

And if you haven’t been following LAFC’s amazing season, Atuesta’s probably been the side’s best player after Vela, who now has 20 goals in 20 games.

Wizard stuff.

Borussia Dortmund tops Liverpool 3-2 at Notre Dame

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A half-hour of the big guns wasn’t enough to get Jurgen Klopp a result against his former team.

Harry Wilson and Rhian Brewster scored for Liverpool in a 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund at the University of Notre Dame on Friday.

Paco Alcacer, Thomas Delaney, and Jacob Bruun Larsen scored for the Black Yellow, who led 3-1 when mass changes began with Virgil Van Dijk, Georginio Wijnaldum, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Jordan Henderson, and Andrew Robertson entering the match.

Liverpool faces Sevilla on Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston.

[ MORE: Latest on Eriksen ]

Alcacer with the ball in the box is a bad idea, and the Spaniard took advantage of Nathaniel Clyne and Joel Matip to smash home from a yard outside the six.

Wilson leveled the score before halftime, but Delaney made it 2-1 in the 53rd minute when a long diagonal ball beat the Reds line and a low pass across the box went undetected.

It was 3-1 via a clever Bruun Larsen touch to wrong foot James Milner, but Brewster brought the Reds back to within one when he converted a 75th minute penalty won by Ben Woodburn.

Liverpool was without Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mohamed Salah, who are on break after deep summer tournament runs.

Eriksen offered big Spurs wages, but Atletico Madrid lurks

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Christian Eriksen may trade London for Madrid after all, but Marca claims it’ll be Real Madrid’s rivals who earn the services of Tottenham’s Danish playmaker.

Eriksen, 27, scored 10 goals with 17 assists for Spurs in all competitions last season, and was reportedly ready to spread his wings for Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Kean to Everton? ]

But pro-Real site Marca says Zinedine Zidane doesn’t want Eriksen at the Bernabeu, and that Diego Simeone feels differently… should Atletico Madrid fail at landing his prime option.

That’s James Rodriguez, who remains property of Real and that’s a problem.

So Eriksen to Atleti, helping to replace Antoine Griezmann? It’s possible.

From Marca.com:

Just last November, the London club put a 250 million euro price tag on his head, but now appear keen to move him on. The next few days will likely reveal a lot about what’s to come.

So we may get an idea of whether this report has any guts to it by next week. There could be some sense to it, but Metro claims that Spurs are offering Eriksen an “enormous” contract to keep him in North London.

Enormous means a doubling of Eriksen’s wages, and the Dane is said to be happy in England. Might Spurs hold off the finest of La Liga and Serie A after all.