Manchester United started their lucrative pre-season US tour 2014 on 24 July. It was a well-known fact new manager Louis van Gaal (LvG) would use this tour as an ideal opportunity to weigh the merits and demerits of his squad. Similarly, all the players from their collective wisdom of playing professional football for several years are fully aware that they would be judged by the new regime at the club.
As if on cue, just before United`s last tour match in America, the final of the International Champions Cup against Liverpool, the Dutchman publicly stated he would bring the axe down on some United careers. Simply put, he would be telling players if they had a future at Old Trafford or not.
The team did exceptionally well by winning the International Champions Cup and the 62-year-old could not have asked for a better start to his reign at the club at this juncture. United thrashed LA Galaxy 7-0, edged out AS Roma 3-2, beat Inter Milan on penalties, cruised past Real Madrid 3-1 and completed another 3-1 win over Liverpool in the final.
There is just another friendly against Valencia on August 12 left to play, but that won`t offer a platform for players to make last-minute impressions on the manager as he has already made his mind up on their futures at the end of this US tour.
Before Louis van Gaal communicates his decision to the players, we dissect the Manchester United squad to understand which players could be on their way out of Old Trafford.
Unlike his predecessor who employed a 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation, Van Gaal`s preferred formation is the 3-5-2. As exhibited by his Dutch team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and United during pre-season, the formation is here to stay. Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling appear to be Gaal`s favored trio in the new formation. They will definitely be part of his future plans.
It is unclear if he intends to strengthen the backline with another centre-back. Two names in particular doing the rounds of the rumor mill are Thomas Vermaelen and Mats Hummels. With the transfer window closing on September 1, there is plenty of time and a strong possibility that one of them could be a United player before the season starts. Even if that is the case, Evans and Jones look good to retain their place in the back three.
New signing Luke Shaw, despite being told to improve his fitness level, will be a confirmed starter as a left wing-back. After the exits of veteran left-back Patrice Evra and his understudy Alex Buttner, the club will most likely sign another player in that position as a direct competitor to Shaw. It would not be wrong to assume the manager feels a bit short of cover at the back.
Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia has been the preferred player on the right so far, which means young Rafael da Silva may get sidelined in the new formation. However, there is no chance he would be sold with virtually no other options in the right wing-back role. Despite being impressed with reserve team players Michael Keane and Tyler Blackett, LvG is unlikely to employ them in his formation when United play their first match on August 16.
LvG will have to negotiate similar problems in the middle as the ones at the back especially with Michael Carrick being injured and out for three months. Highly rated Anders Hererra was added to the squad from Athletico Bilbao in the summer and he along with Darren Fletcher will be United`s preferred combination in the middle of the park. The manager has shown during the US tour that Juan Mata scores over Shinji Kagawa to play in the hole behind the two front-men.
Much to the disappointment of a section of United fans, Tom Cleverley would be going nowhere after playing his role in the team during the pre-season to the manager`s satisfaction. Young sensation Adnan Januzaj obviously will be part of LvG`s long term plans and will be staying put.
The midfield quartet of Maroune Fellaini, Luis Nani, Anderson and Kagawa should be really worried about the manager wielding his axe. Napoli have shown interest in the Belgian for a loan move but the Serie A side are not willing to buy Fellaini who cost United £27.5m last summer. Anderson is one player who will have no role to play under the new team management and it would not be wrong to say the club is desperately trying to offload the Brazilian who is currently nursing an injury and has one year left on his contract.
After yet another performance without any impact, Nani would be on his way out of the club. The Portuguese has not really lived up to his billing since joining the club despite being given numerous opportunities by Sir Alex Ferguson. LvG has already pointed out his unhappiness about United`s squad on two occasions with regards to it`s balance. He was specifically talking about having too many "No. 10" position players in the team. With Mata having pipped Kagawa as United`s No. 10, the future of the Japanese at Old Trafford appears grim.
In a 3-5-2 formation, Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney would be obvious starters for Manchester United week-in, week-out. Hence the squad should have an additonal two strikers as cover. As of now, those two are Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez. As seen at the World Cup, LvG had Dirk Kuyt start in all of Holland`s matches. He could see Welbeck in that role, especially because of his work ethic. The Manchester-born lad will definitely be part of United`s scheme of things in 2014-15. However, Hernandez has made his intentions of not wanting to play as an "impact sub" clear. He wants first-team action on a regular basis, which would see him leave the club if Atletico Madrid place an offer on the table.
The transfer window closes on September 1. But Louis van Gaal will have to communicate his decision to players within this week, so it gives them and their agents ample time to seek new employers. But one thing is clear, when Manchester United launch their bid to wrestle back the Premier League trophy from their "noisy neighbors" on August 16 against Swansea, some of the familiar faces will be missing.