Man Utd: 4 Reasons for Optimism in 2014-15
Wednesday's release of Premier League fixtures for the 2014-15 season has provided football fans with a distraction amid the World Cup excitement.
Club football has taken a back seat to the international tournament in Brazil over the last couple of weeks but is back in the headlines once more following the unveiling of the official schedule for the new season.
And their neighbours in Red, Manchester United, will also be hoping to hit the ground running following a bitterly disappointing term under David Moyes in 2013-14.
United finished seventh, missed out on Champions League football for the first time since 1995 and failed to qualify for Europe altogether for the first time in 14 years, culminating in Moyes's dismissal in April.
However, there is a lot to be hopeful about for Stretford End supporters ahead of the new season, and here we take a look at four reasons for optimism for 2014-15.
An Easy Run of Opening Fixtures?
Former Manchester United manager David Moyes said he found United's opening run of fixtures "hard to believe," per BBC Sport, as he prepared to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson last August.
United started promisingly after eking out a draw against Chelsea but were dismantled 4-1 by the Citizens before slouching to a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
If Red Devils fans were concerned their side would be handed yet another tricky start to their season in 2014-15, they might have breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday morning.
On paper, that would appear to be a favourable start to the season for the Red Devils, who could be in a strong position by the time they entertain Everton at Old Trafford on October 4.
The Recent Form of Juan Mata
There may have been very little to shout about for United fans last season following the club's worst Premier League season on record.
However, if there was one shining light of optimism to hang onto, it was the form of record signing Juan Mata in the tail end of the 2013-14 campaign.
United shelled out £37.1 million for the Spain star in the January transfer window, making him the Red Devil's costliest player in history when he arrived from rivals Chelsea.
And he has largely lived up to his billing by scoring six goals in 15 Premier League appearances, with only Wayne Rooney (8) finding the back of the net more times since the arrival of the former Valencia playmaker.
Mata looks as though he will be crucial to United in the seasons to come, and fans will be hoping he can continue his goalscoring form into the new season.
A Big Summer of Transfer Activity?
Part of the reason for United's failings last season was the club's inability to successfully negotiate deals for key transfer targets in the summer transfer window.
The Red Devils made three bids for Barcelona's Cesc Fabregas, put in two offers for Everton left-back Leighton Baines and failed with a controversial attempt to land Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera (per the Daily Mirror).
In the end, Marouane Fellaini was United's only notable acquisition when he joined in a £27 million deal from Everton, while the size of that transfer raised eyebrows considering the club had earlier put in a bid to sign the Belgian and Baines for £28 million (per BBC).
United surely cannot afford another debacle 12 months on, with the Old Trafford outfit in obvious need of investment following David Moyes' disastrous tenure.
Luke Shaw (pictured) has reportedly told current club Southampton that he wants to move to United, while high-profile names such as Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mats Hummels and Kevin Strootman have been linked with transfers to the Theatre of Dreams in recent weeks.
It is imperative that United enjoy more success in landing their prime transfer targets this time around, and if they do, the Manchester club could be back among the big dogs next year.
Louis Van Gaal
By far the biggest cause of optimism for United fans ahead of the new season is new manager Louis van Gaal.
Questions were raised over David Moyes' appointment as Sir Alex Ferguson's successor a year ago, and those concerns were justified as the Scot failed to cope with the pressure of managing at the highest levels of the game.
One man who certainly will not have any trouble dealing with the high expectations at Old Trafford is Van Gaal, who has proven himself a winner in the past.
The Dutchman has won league titles in three different countries, including Holland, Germany and Spain, and won the Champions League with Ajax in 1994-95 before finishing as runners-up in 1995-96.
His managerial credentials were further boosted last week as he masterminded the Netherlands' thrilling 5-1 win over Spain.
The way his Holland side got at the Spaniards and attacked will have pleased United fans as the Oranje made the reigning world and European champions look very ordinary indeed.
And if Van Gaal can replicate those kinds of breathtaking, attacking performances at United, chances are he will be a huge hit at Old Trafford.