There’s no getting around it, in terms of what their illustrious organization and their fans expect, Manchester United’s 2013/14 campaign was a complete disaster. In just one season the now-unemployed David Moyes (taking over for some guy named Ferguson), managed to take the 20-time title winners from reigning champions – and a team expected to contend once again – to a team that, quite frankly, never even looked like a club that could push for a spot in the top four. The club finished in a very disappointing seventh place, thus failing to qualify for any European competition, marking the first time they had done so since 1990.
The nightmare of a season led to the sacking of Moyes and the search for a new manager. The search didn’t last long, however and ended when Sir Alex and Co. found their man in Louis van Gaal. With him, van Gaal, the former Netherlands national team manager (along with a few of Europe’s top clubs) brings a wealth of knowledge, a much-needed attacking mindset, and the track record to back it all up. And, with a few new faces brought into the fold, along with the existing talent, one of the most successful clubs in the history of English football is looking to head straight back to some familiar territory: the top of the Barclay’s Premier League table.
Between the posts we find David De Gea who, as you might expect, struggled from time to time last year, as he only kept a mere 12 clean sheets. Obviously an inconsistent and often injured back line attributed to this somewhat, but De Gea, despite making several jaw-dropping saves, earned his rather modest ninth place finish among fantasy goalkeepers. As such, and because the club is returning almost all of the same back line from a year ago, he cannot be counted amongst the top at his position. However, don’t let that deter you from making him your team’s keeper. Should you fail to secure the services of a high-end keeper, or would simply prefer to delay selecting one until the mid to late rounds, De Gea makes for a fine choice as he’ll almost assuredly keep 10-15 clean sheets, and should save somewhere around 100 shots.
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Moving forward, just in front of De Gea we find a back line that, under van Gaal’s expected 3-5-2 formation, will likely consist of some combination of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Rafael, and Johnny Evans, with Antonio Valencia (though he may be listed as midfielder for fantasy) and new kid on the block Luke Shaw acting as wing backs. We’ll talk more about Shaw and Valencia in a moment, but as far as the others are concerned, neither will light up the fantasy scoreboard except for the odd week where they bag a goal or an assist. However, as a fourth defender at the back end of your draft each could be serviceable as they’ll keep a good amount of clean sheets as well as get on the score sheet occasionally.
The United midfield is currently a crowded one with several players vying for a spot in the new managers first VI; some will have to adapt to new roles, while others will be relegated to coming off the bench or will be used mostly in cup competitions. One player that will be adjusting to a deeper-lying role will be Shinji Kagawa. Last year, under Moyes, Kagawa was rarely used, only appearing in 18 Premier League games. Being a recent signing from the previous regime, Moyes felt little allegiance to the Japanese international. As such, when he was given time on the pitch he was often played out of position, being used out on the flanks instead of his more natural role right behind the forwards. Under van Gaal, Kagawa is expected to play centrally, but instead it will likely be behind the team’s number 10, Juan Mata. However, given the attacking style that van Gaal likes to operate with, while he will have more defensive duties, Kagawa should still get forward plenty and can use his creativity to aid the offense, making him a solid candidate for a third or fourth midfielder.
Speaking of Mata, as the team’s chief playmaker and creator he naturally becomes the first United midfielder to target in drafts. Blessed with superb dribbling and vision, he makes for the perfect player to come in behind forwards Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie. In just 15 appearances with the Red Devils after a winter deadline transfer from Chelsea, he was simply stunning, bagging six goals and providing four assists. No longer the red-headed step child under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Mata should continue to thrive at Old Trafford and is unquestionably in the first tier of midfielders you should be looking at come draft day.
The forwards, Rooney and van Persie (RvP for short) need no fancy introduction, but I will cover them more in depth here shortly. The other forwards, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, though talented, will, on most occasions, find themselves coming off the bench. However, given the nature of the game and the toll a long Premier League season can take on the body, injuries
can will happen and that makes each worth rostering for the chance they’ll receive an occasional start.
The fantasy studs for Manchester United come as no surprise, as Rooney and RvP, when healthy, are always among the top scorers when it’s all said and done. Both could – and really should – be in for huge seasons, as the chances are expected to come in a flurry under van Gaal.
Looking specifically at Rooney, who hasn’t had a season in which he failed to score less than 11 goals, is as steady as you like. He may lack the upside of a Sergio Agüero, Daniel Sturridge, or even his own teammate RvP in terms of goals, but he’s proved to be a durable, steady goal scorer. But aside from the goals, perhaps what makes him so special – especially for fantasy – is his ability to provide for others. Last year he led the club in created chances with 56, and of those 12 led directly to a goal, marking the fifth time he’s notched double digit assists in his career.
RvP’s 2013/14 was marred with injuries, but that didn’t stop him from netting 12 goals in 21 appearances. As one of the most clinical finishers in the world, he boasts tremendous touch in close quarters and has been arguably the most prolific goal scorer over the past three to four years in the Premier League. He comes with a little more risk attached due to the injury history, but his ceiling may just be that of the best fantasy player in the land if he plays close to a full season.
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Key New Signing
Again, probably coming at no surprise as the team’s key signing is none other than 19 year-old former Southampton man, Luke Shaw. Shaw was nothing short of a sensation last year for the Saints, as he flew up and down the sideline, defending his territory and creating chances for the offense, all the way to being named to the PFA Team of the Year.
And, with the move to Old Trafford he’s entering into a dream scenario for fantasy purposes, as he will figure heavily into the team’s attack playing as one of van Gaal’s wing backs in his 3-5-2 formation. Last year, the now-departed Patrice Evra created 38 chances, provided three assists, and scored one goal from the position that Shaw now occupies. It would be safe to expect him to at least repeat these numbers, with a chance at nicking a few more assists due to the talent the club has up front.
*Note: For a more in depth look at what the addition of Shaw could mean statistically, check this out.*
Flying under the radar and down the other wing opposite of Shaw will be Antonio Valencia, who will stand to profit, much similar to Shaw, with the increased attacking opportunities. The 29 year-old recently received a new three year deal, squelching any rumors that he might not fit under the new regime, and although he doesn’t possess the same ability on the ball as his wing back counterpart, his world class speed is hard for defenders to deal with and allows him to create enough space to plays crosses into the box. Last year he found the back of the net twice and provided three assists.
Although I touched briefly on him earlier, midfielder Shinji Kagwa makes for another intriguing underrated option and deserves a little more run. Yes, he’ll play a more withdrawn position, but his quality on the ball is undeniable and should allow him to impact fantasy teams regardless of where he lines up. Last season (albeit with a small sample) he created 16 chances in just 18 appearances, which included three assists. He also won 50% of his take on’s (10/20) and had an impressive pass completion rate of 87%. With Mata, Rooney, and RvP, in front of him, he still should have plenty of chances to create scoring opportunities, giving him some late-round sex appeal in fantasy drafts.
Players like Wilfried Zaha and Jesse Lingard come to mind when speaking of some talented Manchester United youngsters, but there’s another who burst onto the scene last year and gave the club a youthful injection of pace, dribbling, and overall excitement seemingly every time he set foot on the pitch. 19 year-old Adnan Januzaj dodged, dipped, ducked, dived, and…dazzled his way to four goals, three assists, and 31 created chances in 27 appearances. But his effect on the team went much further than just the counting stats.
As you can see, when looking at how many times he was fouled and how often he beat his man off the dribble (take on’s), his pace and ball control obviously stick out as hallmarks of his game, and often caused problems for opposing defenders as young Januzaj was often seen blowing by his markers.
Hopefully he’s utilized more under van Gaal than he was under Moyes, because he’s clearly demonstrated the necessary tools to not only play in, but be a star in the Premier League.
In closing, Manchester United are poised to bounce back in a big way after one of the club’s most disappointing seasons. In terms of fantasy, the club offers a little bit of everything; the high-end goal scorers, the creators who can get you points in a variety of different ways, and the underrated yet promising mid to late round targets. Whatever you’re looking for, chances are pretty good that a United player can fill the void.