Red Devil Armada got the opportunity this week to interview one of the UK’s leading journalists, Miguel Delaney about all things Manchester United this season.
We put together some questions between all of us here at RDA while we also asked some of our followers on Twitter to submit their questions. Here are the questions and Miguel’s answers.
1. What do you make of Manchester United’s start to the season? Fourth after twelve games but already 13 points behind leaders Chelsea.
MD: “Probably not as impressive as might have been expected, and the football hasn’t seen that much of a lift, but I don’t think that’s a concern at all. The notion of Van Gaal needing a little bit of time to bed in at a club has been repeated a lot and he also has to correct the errors that Moyes made, as well clear up the continued fall-out from Ferguson. That’s something that shouldn’t be underestimated even if it’s a year on. Everything at that club was built up towards one man for so long that it can be quite a process to unravel it. It also means that patterns – say in terms of injuries – are hard to spot because it’s the third regime in a year and a half, so no one knows what’s an effect of the hangover from Ferguson’s time and what’s new. The most important point, above all, is that the entire squad has full faith in Van Gaal. I’d be broadly positive about it all.”
2. United’s injury problems have been well documented this season, with Luke Shaw’s vs Arsenal making it 40 so far. What do you think is the cause of all these injuries?
MD: “I think it’s a mix of several things, some bad luck, some injury prone players, some adjustment and although Raymond Verheijen causes controversy with his comments, I don’t think they should be just dismissed. He’s very often right.”
3. Louis Van Gaal has given debuts to seven players from the academy this season including Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett in defence. How do you think those two youngsters in particular have fared so far?
MD: “McNair hugely impressive, Blackett good but not quite as good as McNair. I wouldn’t hold Blackett totally to blame for that. He’s been put in some trying situations when the entire defensive side of the team was at its most hapless. He’s possibly a little too cool on the ball sometimes but showed creditable character, say, to recover against Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to get bet better of him. That could be a big game for him. McNair, well, he’s just been so assured. There’s also the fact that he has that edge to his game that I think is missing in many modern centre-halves.”
4. Van Gaal was recently quoted as saying he felt he’d tinkered with the formation of the side too much this season. Which system do you think has been best for him so far and what will be long term?
MD: “Probably 4-3-3, or some variation.”
5. Robin van Persie’s form has been a real concern this season for the fans. Do you think there’s a chance the club could move him on in the summer?
MD: “The fact he’s very much Van Gaal’s man means I think no and there’s a lot to be said for the value of someone with that experience in a squad, setting standards, even if he doesn’t play as much. His physical form has been a concern though. At first I thought it was just a case of getting back to fitness. Seems a little more than that right now.”
6. Obviously David Moyes had a torrid time at Old Trafford, while Van Gaal seems to have been given some grace from the fans because of his record in the past. Do you see any similarities between the two managers? What are the main differences?
MD: “The biggest is that Van Gaal looks and behaves like he belongs in the job. Moyes had the wide-eyed stare of someone who couldn’t believe he was there. That had an effect on everything they did. Beyond that, for all the football has been relatively similar so far, there are fundamental differences in philosophy. Moyes is safety-first conservative, Van Gaal is all about imposing yourself and eventually taking risks. Rio Ferdinand – for all his own view may be one-eyed – made an interesting reference in his recent autobiography. He talked about how Keane had told him that United players can’t just be prepared to pass it safely. They have to take risks, to push games. For me, it always seemed Moyes had no problem with the former, whereas Van Gaal demands the latter. That minor difference can lead to major changes.”
7. Wayne Rooney was appointed as captain in the summer, mainly as he was the only stand-out candidate. How do you think he’s done this season in his new role?
MD: “He seems to be coming back into something like what he should be. Thought he was excellent against Arsenal, a defining display of leadership. “
8. With the signing of Kevin Strootman seemingly inevitable before next season, do you think Michael Carrick’s time at Manchester United could be coming to an end? His contract expires at the end of the season.
MD: “Nothing’s certain yet! Carrick can still play a role, as evidenced by how him slotting in has improved team’s defensive structure.”
9. You’ve said recently on ESPN that Manchester United are interested in signing Ron Vlaar in January, while Ryan Shawcross could also be a target. What’s the latest on any possible moves in the January market?
MD: “You’ve summed it up! Their pursuits are well known and obvious from the squad itself. They want a CB, if not two, and Van Gaal is now willing to push for Strootman – although Roma could be very reluctant.”
10. Name your strongest Manchester United XI from this current squad and your formation.
MD: “Can we wait until January!? I’d have issues with the defence!”
Miguel Delaney is a renowned UK journalist and currently writes for ESPN, The Independent on Sunday, Irish Examiner and Blizzard. You can follow him on Twitter at @MiguelDelaney