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A Learning Experience

Manchester United held their player of the year awards ceremony this week. Incredibly, all of the players showed up, which was more than could be said for them in the fixtures against Manchester City and Liverpool this season.

Tuesday night's lap of honour at Old Trafford was a rather sombre affair and against Southampton this weekend, United will meet their neighbours in the Premier League table. Things have not gone according to plan.

It says much that both United's players and fans voted for goalkeeper David de Gea as their player of the year. The Spaniard has been exceptional this season, not least for keeping his head whilst those around him lost theirs.

There will be no trophy parade at St. Mary's this Sunday. Those listening in for results elsewhere will likely await the coronation of Manchester City as champions. For United fans, this is the slightly lesser of two significant evils.

There remains an outside chance that United could qualify for the Europa League and they will need a victory to ensure this. As Ryan Giggs has said, European football should be part of a Manchester United season. Nonetheless, Europe's wrong-headed secondary competition leaves supporters feeling ambivalent. At the time of writing, a Manchester Evening News poll sees fans divided 50-50 on whether they would like to see United compete for the trophy next year.

For those looking for a final swing of boot before the summer, Sunday will be an opportunity for the travelling support to assess left back Luke Shaw and midfielder Adam Lallana. United have been strongly linked with both and Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino is set to take over from Tim Sherwood at Tottenham citing the imminent loss of those players as a reason for leaving.

United, of course, will also be changing their manager for the third time in twelve months after 26 years of stability. It was enjoyable this week to see Louis van Gaal tell a BBC journalist that it was a "stupid question" to ask what he knew about Manchester United. This cocktail of arrogance and honesty might just appeal to the Mancunians after David Moyes' meek pronouncements to the press.

Nonetheless, the manner in which Van Gaal's appointment has been dragged out suggests some ego juggling in the boardroom. The above-mentioned interview was farcical primarily because United have delayed the announcement for so long. These kind of things instil a sense of foreboding in those who realise that United need to sign players this summer.

One quick signing van Gaal will be able to make without too much effort is Ryan Giggs. The Welshman proved this week, and indeed against Leverkusen and Olympiacos earlier in the season, that he still cuts it as a player. Giggs himself has played his cards close to that hairy chest.

"Once you stop that's it. You have to really think carefully," he said on Friday. There can be few complaints if he remains in the red shirt next season. His stint as player-manager has also warmed the support after some chilling matches earlier in the campaign.

As the final whistle is blown on Sunday, United will hear the cheers of their closest rivals as they take the trophy away from them. Bobby Charlton insisted at the midweek awards that United would be the number one team in Manchester again next year.

Giggs was more straightforward on Friday. "You learn more when you lose," he said.

What have United learned this season?

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