United need new players and fast
The Premier League fixture list was released on Wednesday and as soon as it saw sunlight, an email from Manchester United arrived imploring supporters to buy a new season ticket. Getting your hands on a season ticket was almost impossible 20 years ago, such was the never-ending waiting list. Times have changed, though, with the club keener than ever to boost their immediate cash flow. And yet they still haven't made any signings.
David Moyes could be forgiven for grimacing at successor Louis van Gaal's opening run for the new campaign, meanwhile. The first game is against Swansea (as was Moyes') and that's followed by Sunderland, Burnley and QPR. Indeed, United will face all three promoted teams in their opening five fixtures. Last year they met Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City. The difference could not be starker.
On paper, the toughest looking run in the opening half of the season will see United play Chelsea, City and Arsenal in 28 days between the end of October and November. It is imperative that a better start is made in the league and they will hope to enter that run in a better position than seventh.
In order to establish themselves in the race for the title and not just the Europa League places, they will need some kind of defence. Van Gaal appears to have noticed this and a bid for Thomas Vermaelen from Arsenal has been mooted.
Vermaelen's acquisition would make sense in some respects, although if you speak to Arsenal fans, they would not shed many tears if he left. Read into that what you may but ultimately, the Belgium international has a wealth of Premier League experience -- something United will require at the back. While Arsenal supporters would prefer Vermaelen not to join a rival, the fact remains he is prone to unforced errors. Those at the Emirates say this is largely because of his intermittent inclusion in the team, with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker first choice.
This is the same problem that has been encountered by Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans over the past couple of seasons. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic now gone, a settled partnership will be crucial in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
United are desperately in need of a settled centre-back duo and it would appear that the Vermaelen pursuit will not be van Gaal's only plan for this department. Again, though, United are still to register a major signing and question marks over Ed Woodward's prospects remain. The spate of departures sees almost no end in sight, either.
Alex Buttner has also announced he will be leaving Old Trafford after the arrival of van Gaal. In a ludicrous outburst in the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf during which he claimed to have been United's man of the match 14 times, he bemoaned van Gaal not picking him for the national side. Few will mourn his departure.
His attitude is in stark contrast to that of Wesley Sneijder, who has opened the door for a move to United as well this week. "Nobody from Netherlands can simply reject Van Gaal," said the 30-year-old. Sneijder has been linked with United before but his age and position are not necessarily what they currently require. Nonetheless, in a squad that has just lost several senior professionals, his pedigree may be welcome.
Van Gaal himself is enjoying a high old time at the moment. It is not often that your team trounces the reigning champions at the World Cup and the 5-1 win over Spain was an enormous boon to United fans everywhere. But he can't do two jobs at the same time.
Manchester United will be starting next season with a better run of games than they did the previous year but if they don't bolster the playing squad they could be in just as much trouble. As time wears on, it is becoming easier to sympathise with Moyes' plight.
Where are the signings?