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Season preview: Negative vibes surround Man United

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Manchester United at a glance

Premier League titles: 13 (English First Division titles – 20, the record)
FA Cups: 12
League Cups: 5
European Cups: 3 (1968, 1999, 2008)

[ MORE: 2018/19 PL season preview hub ]  


They will be challenging Man City for the title… because on paper they probably have the second or third best squad in the PL. Lukaku, Sanchez, Pogba, Bailly, De Gea, Martial, Rashford, Mata, Matic… Yeah, you get the point. United’s current situation regarding a lack of incomings this summer isn’t as bad as Jose Mourinho is making out (more on that further down) and if they can get their act together and stop squandering chances, they’ll cut the 19-point gap to Man City from last season.

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Most likely Jose Mourinho will be out before December and they’ll be in midtable… it seemed ridiculous to write that sentence, but right now it really isn’t. Is it? Mourinho is approaching meltdown mode in his third season at United. Just like at other clubs he has hung around long enough to upset plenty of people and he appears to be quickly running out of friends on the board, among his squad and just about everywhere else. The fact that he’s one of the favorties with the bookmakers to be the first PL manager to be out of job this season says it all.


Best possible XI

—– De Gea —–

—- Valencia —- Jones —- Bailly —- Young —-

—- Matic —- Fred —-

—- Sanchez —- Pogba —- Rashford —-

—– Lukaku —–


Transfers in: Fred ($67 million, Shakhtar Donetsk), Diogo Dalot ($24.6 million, FC Porto), Lee Grant ($1.9 million, Stoke City)

Transfers out: Joe Riley (Bradford City), Sam Johnstone (West Brom), Daley Blind (Ajax)


Ranking their offseason: 2/10 – Couldn’t have really gone much worse for Mourinho’s` men as his constant complaints about most of their squad not being on their U.S. tour has whipped up a severe air of negativity around the Red Devils. Add that into lacklustre displays against the San Jose Earthquakes, AC Milan, Liverpool and Bayern Munich and there’s not a good vibe heading into the new season. Mourinho slamming the quality of United’s young players on the tour will not do wonders for their confidence, plus the likes of Lukaku and Pogba rushing back from their summer break early (as Mourinho hinted he’d like them to do) will likely create tension.


AP

Star man: Romelu Lukaku – He scored four times for Belgium this summer at the World Cup but the most impressive thing about his displays was the timing of his runs and how unselfish he was. Lukaku scored 27 goals in all competitions in his debut season at United, which was pretty good going and kind of flew under the radar. David De Gea is always a star for United but he had a few wobbles over the summer, while Alexis Sanchez looks refreshed after his summer off with Chile not at the World Cup. All three will be key to United’s success but Lukaku’s goals are vital and if Mourinho can figure out where to play Pogba, he will become a star.


Coaches’ Corner: Ah, yes, the old third-season syndrome is kicking in once again for Mr. Mourinho as he has publicly slammed his club for failing to buy the players he wants, plus has had a pop at rivals for spending too much. Add to that his grumpier than usual demeanour (yes, that is possible) and losing his top assistant Rui Faria over the summer, and you have the start of what is now becoming a predictable demise. Mourinho will still set his teams up to grind out wins but United’s supporters could soon turn on both him and Chief Executive Ed Woodward if they have a slow start to the season.


PST predicts: Finishing in the top four may well be a struggle for United this season considering Liverpool have bought well, Tottenham have kept hold of their stars and Manchester City look irresistible, plus Arsenal and Chelsea will be there or thereabouts. United will focus on going far in the UEFA Champions League and finishing in the top four and the latter will probably be as good as it gets.

Club-by-club list of Premier League winter transfers

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Here’s a full list of ins and outs, loans and permanent transfers, from around the Premier League.

[ MORE: January 2017 transfer news ]

Arsenal

In: Cohen Bramall (Hednesford Town)

Out: Gedion Zelalem (VVV Venlo, loan), Dan Crowley (Go Ahead Eagles, loan), Kaylen Hinds (Stevenage Borough, loan), Chuba Akpom (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan)

Bournemouth

In: Aaron Ramsdale (Sheffield United)

Out: Nathan Ake (Chelsea), Emerson Hyndman (Rangers, loan), Callum Buckley (Aldershot Town, loan), Glenn Murray (Brighton & Hove Albion), Lewis Grabban (Reading, loan), Joe Quigley (Gillingham, loan), Jordan Green (Leyton Orient, loan), Harry Cornick (Gillingham, loan), Matt Neale (Wimborne Town, loan), Marc Wilson (West Bromwich Albion, loan)

Burnley

In: Joey Barton (unattached), Ashley Westwood (Aston Villa), Robbie Brady (Norwich City)

Out: Danny Lafferty (Sheffield United), Chris Long (Bolton, loan)

Chelsea

In: Nathan Ake (Bournemouth, loan recall)

Out: Oscar (Shanghai SIPG), John Mikel Obi (Tianjin TEDA), Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough), Dion Conroy (Swindon Town), Marco Van Ginkel (PSV Eindhoven, loan), Jay Dasilva (Charlton, loan), Isaiah Brown (Huddersfield Town, loan), Fankaty Dabo (Swindon Town, loan), Charlie Colkett (Swindon Town, loan), Fikayo Tomori (Brighton & Hove Albion, loan), Mukhtar Ali (Vitesse Arnhem, loan)

Crystal Palace

In: Jeff Schlupp (Leicester City), Patrick Van Aanholt (Sunderland), Luka Milivojevic (Olympiacos), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool)

Out: Jordon Mutch (Reading, loan), Keshi Anderson (Northampton Town, loan), Freddie Ladapo (Shrewsbury Town, loan)

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 15: Jeffrey Schlupp of Leicester City (L) and N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Leicester City at Stamford Bridge on October 15, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Everton

In: Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Ademola Lookman (Charlton), Anton Donkor (Wolfsburg, loan)

Out: Tom Cleverley (Watford, loan), Oumar Niasse (Hull City, loan), Gerard Deulofeu (Milan, loan), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Darron Gibson (Sunderland), Antony Evans (Morecambe, loan), Gethin Jones (Barnsley, loan), Russell Griffiths (Motherwell, loan), Tyias Browning (Preston North End, loan), Conor McAleny (Oxford United, loan), Steven Kinsella (Dundalk, loan)

Hull City

In: Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Oumar Niasse (Everton, loan), Markus Henriksen (AZ Alkmaar), Evandro (Porto), Omar Elabdellaoui (Olympiacos, loan), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool, loan), Andrea Rannochia (Inter Milan, loan), Alfred N'Diaye (Villarreal, loan)

Out: Jake Livermore (West Brom), Alex Bruce (Wigan, loan), James Weir (Wigan, loan), Robert Snodgrass (West Ham), Allan McGregor (Cardiff City, loan), Harvey Rodgers (Accrington Stanley, loan), Jonathan Edwards (Accrington Stanley, loan)

Leicester City

In: Wilfried Ndidi (Genk), Molla Wague (Granada)

Out: Jeff Schlupp (Crystal Palace), Luis Hernandez (Malaga), Harvey Barnes (MK Dons, loan), Matty James (Barnsley, loan), Callum Elder (Barnsley, loan)

Liverpool

Out: Pedro Chirivella (Go Ahead Eagles, loan), Tiago Ilori (Reading), Lazar Markovic (Hull City, loan), Cameron Brannagan (Fleetwood Town, loan), Mamadou Sakho (Crystal Palace, loan)

Manchester City

In: Gabriel Jesus (Palmeiras)

Out: Pablo Maffeo (Girona, loan), Angelino (Girona, loan), Manu Garcia (NAC Breda, loan), Bruno Zuculini (Hellas Verona, loan), Billy O’Brien (St. Mirren, loan), David Faupala (Chesterfield, loan), George Glendon (Fleetwood Town)

Manchester United

Out: Morgan Schneiderlin (Everton), Memphis Depay (Lyon), Sam Johnston (Aston Villa, loan), Joe Riley (Sheffield United, loan), Sean Goss (QPR)

Middlesbrough

In: Rudy Gestede (Aston Villa), Patrick Bamford (Chelsea), Adlene Guedioura (Watford), Mikael Soisalo (Ilves Tampere)

Out: David Nugent (Derby County), Julien De Sart (Derby County, loan), Tomas Mejias (Rayo Vallecano, loan), Emilio Nsue (Birmingham City), Bryn Morris (Shrewsbury Town), Mark Kitching (Rochdale, loan)

Southampton

In: Manolo Gabbiadini (Napoli), Mouez Hassen (Nice, loan)

Out: Jose Fonte (West Ham)

NAPLES, ITALY - DECEMBER 02: Manolo Gabbiadini of Napoli during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio San Paolo on December 2, 2016 in Naples, Italy. (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
Manolo Gabbiadini (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)

Stoke City

In: Lee Grant (Derby County), Saido Berahino (West Brom)

Out: Bojan Krkic (Mainz, loan), Jakob Haugaard (Wigan, loan), Ryan Sweeney (Bristol Rovers, loan), Ollie Shenton (Wrexham, loan), Joel Taylor (Rochdale, loan), Dionatan Teixeria (released), Moha El Ouriachi (Hearts, loan), Sergio Molina (Albacete), George Waring (Carlisle United, loan)

Sunderland

In: Joleon Lescott (unattached), Bryan Oviedo (Everton), Darron Gibson (Everton)

Out: Patrick van Aanholt (Crystal Palace), Andrew Nelson (Hartlepool United, loan)

Swansea City

In: Luciano Narsingh (PSV Eindhoven), Martin Olsson (Norwich City), Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), Jordan Ayew (Aston Villa)

Out: Neil Taylor (Aston Villa), Modou Barrow (Leeds United, loan), Marvin Emnes (Blackburn, loan), Ryan Hedges (Barnsley), Owain Jones (Yeovil Town, loan)

Tottenham Hotspur

Out: Tom Carroll (Swansea City), Anton Walkes (Atlanta United, loan), Ryan Loft (Stevenage, loan), Shayon Harrison (Yeovil Town, loan), Connor Ogilvie (Stevenage, loan), Luke Amos (Southend United, loan).

Watford

In: Tom Cleverley (Everton, loan), Mauro Zarate (Fiorentina), M’Baye Niang (Milan, loan)

Out: Obbi Oulare (Willem II, loan), Odion Ighalo (Changchun Yatai), Adlene Guedioura (Middlesbrough), Michael Folivi (Coventry City, loan), Alex Jakubiak (Wycombe Wanderers, loan), Adalberto Penaranda (Malaga, loan)

West Bromwich Albion

In: Jake Livermore (Hull City), Marc Wilson (Bournemouth, loan)

Out: Callum McManaman (Sheffield Wednesday, loan), Craig Gardner (Birmingham City, loan), Saido Berahino (Stoke City), Tyler Roberts (Shrewsbury Town, loan), Andre Wright (Yeovil Town, loan), Joe Ward (released), Tahvon Campbell (Notts County, loan)

West Ham United

In: Jose Fonte (Southampton), Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)

Out: Dimitri Payet (Marseille), Simone Zaza (Juventus, loan to Valencia), Reece Oxford (Reading, loan), Toni Martinez (Oxford United, loan), Marcus Browne (Wigan, loan), Alex Pike (Cheltenham Town, loan), Sam Howes (Hampton and Richmond Borough, loan), Lewis Page (Charlton), Martin Samuelsen (Peterborough United, loan)

Van Gaal redeems himself with faith in youth

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Joe Riley wore the smile of a cat that got the cream. Quite right, too, because in making his first appearance for Manchester United, the 19-year-old who worked his way up through the club’s ranks from the age of six lived an experience that boys the world over would give their eye teeth for.

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“Standing at the side, waiting to come on, just wearing your shirt with your name on the back. It’s always something that any lad going through the system is proud to do,” Riley said after his debut 45 minutes as a second-half substitute in a 3-0 victory at Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup in February.

[ MORE: Christian Fuchs’ family explains his success at Leicester ]

“A very good feeling.”

Many United fans, of course, would rather have the here-and-now instant gratification of league and cup silverware. They’re hungry for a return of pulsating entertainment at Old Trafford, not the thin, unappetizing gruel served up too often by United of late.

Still, in the absence of trophies and of coherent, consistent attacking football, the single most redeeming feature so far of Louis Van Gaal‘s two-year tenure as manager has been his heavy use of young players like Riley: born in and around Manchester, hot-housed by the club since they were kids and thrown by the Dutchman into the deep end of first-team football.

This has been both by accident and design. Van Gaal’s history of trusting young players outshines contemporaries such as Jose Mourinho. At Barcelona, the coach gave Xavi Hernandez the first of his record 767 appearances for the club. At Bayern Munich, he made a first-team regular of teenage debutant Thomas Mueller. In striker Marcus Rashford, Van Gaal appears to have unearthed another pearl this season at United.

Cruel accumulations of injuries and, some might argue, a failure to recruit or retain more senior players also forced Van Gaal’s hand. Missing injured first-team players for his first official match in 2014, Van Gaal handed debuts in defense to Tyler Blackett and Jesse Lingard, both from the Manchester area, and promptly lost 2-1 to Swansea.

Riley, born in Blackpool on the northwest coast above Manchester, came on against Shrewsbury because Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, another Manchester-born product of United’s academy fast-tracked by Van Gaal into the first team, was injured in the first half.

But why Van Gaal has done what he’s done is less interesting than the simple fact he has done it at all. In turning to youngsters in tough times, he is perpetuating one of the club’s finest traditions.

In the 1950s, Matt Busby brought though his “Babes” who helped make him a legendary manager. He gave Duncan Edwards his debut at 17. The 18-year-old Bobby Charlton scored twice on his 1956 debut under Busby – a feat that Rashford, also 18, emulated in his first match this February, a Europa League victory against Denmark’s Midtjylland. And Alex Ferguson had his “Fledglings” – David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and others who made fools of those who argued that United wouldn’t win with kids.

So the half-dozen youngsters debuted by Van Gaal this season and those from last season have much to live up to before they will be worthy of their own “Louis’ lads” tag. Van Gaal – or whoever replaces him should United force him out this summer – should continue what he has started, keep giving young players opportunities to deepen the mark they have made, rather than simply shop on the open market for established stars and relegate the next generation to the bench.

That will allow Nicky Butt, a former Fergie Fledgling appointed in February as head of United’s academy, to keep telling parents in all honesty that the club’s pathway for youth remains well and truly open and that their kids might also get to run on the Old Trafford turf one day.

“Our history shows that if you continually let these kids play together, they’ll just get better and better,” said Tony Park, co-author of “Sons of United,” a history of the club’s youth system, and a United season-ticket holder for 25 years.

When one or two young players break through to United’s first team, “the third one thinks he’s next,” Park added. “All of a sudden, everyone thinks they can do it. You get this groundswell of confidence at the next level down.”

[ MORE: Villa owner Lerner accepts blame for team’s relegation ]

Of course, first-team places must be earned. Long-term, not all the youngsters Van Gaal has tested will be worth retaining. Some have already moved on. But Rashford, certainly, oozes class. By making Wayne Rooney drop back into midfield to accommodate the teenager up front, Van Gaal has sent the encouraging message that age and experience are secondary to talent. Lingard, Borthwick-Jackson and the strapping, athletic Timothy Fosu-Mensah, recruited at age 16 from Ajax, also look promising.

Seeing youngsters in red might not feel as worthwhile as shiny trophies but is still its own reward.

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester