In this series, we look past the usual first XI for the top sides and instead shift the spotlight to the five back-up or reserve players who could make an impact in the season ahead.
Next up is the Red Devils. The attacking trio of Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata are more or less secured of their first-team spots, so who else can be relied upon to do the job for Louis Van Gaal?
With Van Gaal’s preference for a formation utilising wing-backs, this could revitalise Valencia’s career at United. Having three centre-backs will mean less onus on the Ecuadorian winger to defend, and this will mean he can foray further up the pitch and concentrate on attacking opposition full-backs. Brazilian right-back Rafael, when fit, looks to be the first choice for this position, but Valencia has the ability to push for that very spot, keeping Rafael on his toes. The very fact that Valencia is a pure right winger will mean this is the only position that Van Gaal is likely to use him in the new system. Most of the time this would prove a downfall for Valencia, especially if Rafael is fit and firing, but Valencia will know he will have to gain the new manager’s trust before he can even attempt to get a run in the side.
is 2014/15 cleverley’s make-or-break year?
Much-maligned for much of last season, Cleverley will likely start as one of the last choices for the two spots in midfield. New signing Ander Herrera looks set to partner Michael Carrick in midfield, so Cleverley will have to battle with Darren Fletcher and Marouane Fellaini (if he stays) for a spot on the bench, when everyone is fit. His career can only go upwards now, especially after he endured a torrid campaign last year, but Cleverley will have to improve under Van Gaal to stand any chance of a career at Manchester United. He has the talent to make an impact, especially off the bench, but Cleverley will have to start letting that talent shine through.
A potential for the United armband, Fletcher would most probably miss out on that since he is not guaranteed a starting spot, behind the aforementioned duo of Herrera and Carrick. The Scottish midfielder will still be a key player for this United side, with his experience and knowhow a useful tool for Van Gaal. He can more than do a job when called upon, and his ability could see him used by Van Gaal to close out matches.
a superstar in the making?
The breakout player for United last year and after gaining valuable experience travelling with the Belgium team at the recent World Cup, this could be the year where Januzaj truly shows what he is made of. In the current system, Januzaj will likely be second fiddle to Mata. However, at least this would mean Januzaj will be able to play in his favoured position, the no.10 role. Likely to be used off the bench more often than not, the Belgium youngster has the talent to become a Premier League superstar. How Van Gaal will use him will be interesting, but the tendency for the Dutchman to use youngsters will mean Januzaj is in good hands.
In truth, van Persie and Rooney were always going to be the top picks for United. Welbeck, thus, is third choice at the club. Still, Welbeck has the type of ability not many players have. His high pace and stamina, coupled with his ability to stretch defenders as well as work hard up front, means that the England international can be a wildcard for Van Gaal. If the Dutch manager wants to go slightly more defensive, he can call upon Welbeck to do a job on say, the opposition’s deep-lying playmaker, while still depend on him to support the main striker. In a way, Welbeck could be seen as England’s answer to Thomas Müller – just that his finishing ability is still quite far from the finishing prowess of the awkward World Cup-winning German.
Who do you think, beyond the first eleven, will have the biggest impact for Manchester United this season?