Finally, it’s over. The transfer window has slammed shut and people can move on with their lives. Maybe, go on a holiday instead of checking for updates on who bought whom every two minutes like a bad case of obsessive compulsive disorder and accept the players they will be cheering for, at least until January, when this circus will start again. But that’s football for you; can’t live with it, can’t live without it.
One manager who really needs to accept the bunch he has got now is Louis van Gaal when his Manchester United host Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool at Old Trafford on Saturday. It does not get bigger and while most build-ups to these two giants of English football meeting would centre on both clubs taking digs at each other — the infamous ‘fact’ press conference by former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez particularly makes me smile --- this time it will be around the line-up. Thankfully so.
For United, the first name to come to mind will be of course, Anthony Martial.
A deadline-day signing from Monaco, the Red Devils paid a world record fee for a teenager, forking out £36 million for an unproven 19-year-old forward. And the fee, with all its clauses could rise to £57.6 million. One of the clauses, is a bonus to Monaco should the Frenchman win the Ballon d’Or. No pressure then kid. Martial is expected to make his debut against the Merseysiders on Saturday, lining up ahead of Wayne Rooney who is expected to slot into the ‘No 10’ position. The England skipper became his country’s highest scorer on Tuesday night, surpassing Sir Bobby Charlton’s tally of 49 when he netted from the spot against Switzerland, but his lack of goals for United is a worry.
Rooney, after constantly being criticised for being too slow to lead the line can now do what he does best — link up play, drop deep and orchestrate the way only he knows how. How the English-French duo link up remains to be seen although Rooney himself has said he does better in a two-striker system, a possibility should Van Gaal shift from his 4-2-3-1 (or 4-3-3) to a traditional 4-4-2.
In their support will be Memphis Depay and Juan Mata. The former has joined this season amid much fanfare and while he was instrumental to their Champions League play-off win over Club Brugge, the Dutch winger has struggled in the league. He can learn from the man on the opposite wing though, with Mata using this very reverse fixture last season to cement his place in Van Gaal’s side, scoring twice in a 2-1 win when his future seemed increasingly away from Manchester.
The midfield should see Morgan Schneiderlin line up next to Bastian Schweinsteiger or Ander Herrera, and whatever the combination, it will be their first real test against top level opposition. It will also be the perfect opportunity to put their poor showing in the 1-2 loss to Swansea last time out (the Devils’ first loss of the season) behind them.
The defence seems to be the only area which Van Gaal for the moment at least, does not seem to be too worried about. Wing-backs Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw have been superb so far, but the central pairing of Chris Smalling with Daley Blind remains a concern. The latter is a midfielder by trait and not as tall as a conventional centre-back but he performed well until the defeat to the Welsh club. Fans though, are eager to see Marcos Rojo (still not fit) and Phil Jones (illness) return.
Should Blind survive the ‘big’ challenge of Christian Benteke, he can make a genuine claim for his place in the back four.
The biggest story of the window though, was the last minute collapse of goalkeeper David de Gea’s move to Real Madrid. United played hard to get over a fee all season, with the two clubs coming to an agreement late on deadline day and failing to complete the paperwork in time. What followed was a blame game but de Gea was left in a limbo. The player was keen to leave and watched all of United’s matches this season from the stands. He will now have to make amends with the fans and the club, with Van Gaal saying he was not in the ‘right frame of mind’ to be included. The Spaniard’s place in his county’s Euro 2016 squad too hangs in the balance.
His return to the United playing 11 will be a boost. After all, he was voted their best player in the last two seasons for good reason.
Rodgers on a tightrope
What could be the best way to bounce back from a humiliating loss against opposition whom you are expected to beat comfortably? A win against the biggest club in England, of course!
After their 0-3 battering by West Ham last week, Rodgers is walking a tightrope. Liverpool finished sixth last season and the Northern Irishman would have let out a sigh of relief to still be at the helm.
A host of new recruits including Roberto Firmino, Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Danny Ings and James Milner ensured fans looked forward to the season with high expectations. But three uninspired league performances --- narrow wins against Stoke City and Bournemouth and a draw against Arsenal --- were capped by the loss to West Ham. Star player Philippe Coutinho was sent off, the midfield was shabby at best and the attack was so lacklustre it would have made David Moyes’ Man United look like Barcelona. With Coutinho suspended, Firmino will be tasked with bringing the creativity against a tight United midfield.
West Ham tore the defence apart and seeing defender Dejan Lovren --- hopeless in that game --- in the starting 11 may see Liverpool lose a considerable number from their fan base. Clyne has been the highlight so far, with the right-back saying ahead of the game that Liverpool wanted to get at ‘United’s throats’. His forward runs will make him a handful for Luke Shaw and the United defender will need ample cover from teammate Memphis Depay ahead of him to deal with the former Southampton man’s threat.
The last time the two sides met, former captain and club legend Steven Gerrard was sent off seconds after coming on for a bad tackle on Herrera. Gerrard often said how he ‘lived for games against United’, and his presence in the middle will be sorely missed. Jordan Henderson has taken over as captain since his departure to LA Galaxy, but the England international is a doubt due to injury. If fit in time, he will be keen to show he has what it takes to lead the team in matches like these. If not, Lucas Leiva will have to come up with his best impression of Henderson.
James Milner, a free transfer from Manchester City, has quietly gone about his business early in the season and will bring stability to the team. Good on the tackle and with an eye for goal, the multi-purpose midfielder will be the engine that could see Liverpool to the finish line against United.
Van Gaal, at least until January, needs to work with what he has. They were his decisions after all, and Liverpool will be keen to question them.
(The writer tweets as @GovindanKishwar )