After watching an injury-ravaged Manchester United limp to a disappointing opening day defeat against Swansea last weekend, one thing is clear. Like last season, Old Trafford is a ground where opponents do not currently fear to tread.
If there was one quality United lacked under David Moyes, and there were many, it was authority. With a lack of authority came a collective loss in confidence from the coaching staff (witness the cringe-worthy fumbling of the ‘set plays’ folder) to the players and lastly to the fans. Old Trafford had lost its aura.
Under Sir Alex Ferguson, United won 305 top-flight home games and lost 34. Under David Moyes, they won nine games at home and lost six (losing a seventh against Sunderland under Ryan Giggs). In a season where the players seemed to lack any sense of drive, Old Trafford was no longer a ground that intimidated visiting teams.
“It’s not good enough,” said Wayne Rooney back in March after United had limped to a 3-0 defeat at home to Manchester City.
“We can’t lose six home games in a season and we have to put that right, and make this a place which teams fear again.”
For a club which has made a habit of winning, United slipped into a habit of nervousness, hesitancy and confusion as Moyes’ cautious, defensive approach stifled the team’s attacking confidence.
To be successful as a manager of United, or any world class football team, you have to have a certain force of personality. That authority, that confidence, has to filter through every level of the club from the boardroom down to the bottom row of the North Stand.
Ferguson had it in spades. Moyes did not. Louis van Gaal is a different man entirely. He has that authority and one of his first tasks will be to re-establish Old Trafford as a ground where the moment an early goal is scored by a United player, opponents know they have a mountain to climb.
For the supporters, encouragement will not only come from wins but from the flowing, quick-passing football that Van Gaal favours, a style that we grew so accustomed to under Ferguson. Just like winning, the United style of football is something we crave.
We knew it would be a difficult season and the opening two games have proved that. Van Gaal is yet to build the squad he needs to challenge for a Premier League title but if Van Gaal can remould the Theatre of Dreams into somewhere that intimidates opponents, it is a start.
“The fear factor will be back at Old Trafford next season, don’t worry about that,” said Darren Fletcher during the preseason tour of USA.
Now it’s time for the players to deliver on that statement.