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Easy start to boost the feel good factor

2014-FIFA-World-Cup-Final-DrawThe 18th of June was the day that Louis Van Gaal, Manchester United fans and football fans in general waited for with anticipation.Van Gaal ,who probably had most of his attention fixed on his teams World Cup clash with Australia later on in the day, will more than likely be pleased with the fixture list handed to him as will the majority of fans, for United’s start to the season looks a lot less demanding than the extremely tough start David Moyes was given last season.

United start off against Swansea at home , the same opening day fixture as last season which will give Van Gaal an early chance – one which, admittedly, will be influenced by United’s business in the transfer window – to show the Old Trafford crowd what they can expect to see in the following months and, perhaps, years. On paper at least, he next seven games are all very winnable, with the only real test coming in the shape of Everton, who visit Old Trafford on October 4th, and United will be looking to put the two disastrous defeats against the Toffees last season behind them.

At the end of October, United face their first real test of the season against Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in a game that Van Gaal will be desperate to win as it would set down a marker for the rest of the campaign and it would also ensure United avoid a repetition of last season’s fiasco when Moyes failed to win any matches against the top four bar Arsenal at home.

With Chelsea having already clinched the signing of Cesc Fabregas and with Diego Costa poised to join his Spain teammates at Stamford Bridge, the Blues will arguably be one of the favourites for the title next season but, as shown by Holland’s 5-1 demolition of Spain at the World Cup, Van Gaal is not new to mastermind wins against the odds-on favourites.

A week later United travel across town to face City, the first testing away game in November, followed by a trip to the Emirates three weeks later after which United fans should have a clearer picture of the direction the team has taken under Van Gaal. Last season United were embarrassed at the Etihad as City ran riot and condemned United to a second defeat in five games, as the first doubts about Moyes’ tenure began to creep in.

Home fixtures against Crystal Palace and Hull on either side of the trip to Emirates are both winnable games and United will be expected to pick up six points in those two games before they head into December, a month jam packed with fixtures. United play six matches in total in the final month of the year, including  Liverpool at home , Southampton away and Spurs at White Hart Lane to name but a few, with Newcastle visiting Old Trafford on Boxing Day for the second time in three seasons while New Year’s Day has a glamorous trip to the Britannia in store for the Reds, in what is sure to be a tough clash.

January and February are two easy enough months for United with them facing all three newly promoted sides in four games even though, sadly, there’ll be nothing exciting about the draw for the Champions League round of 16 this time around.  The trip to Stoke and the one to West Ham at the beginning of February are potential banana skins but United will be expected to see them out, while home games against Southampton, Leicester, Burnley and Sunderland as well as trips to Swansea and QPR should give United a good platform to build upon ahead of the following two months.

March and April are probably the most challenging two months of the season with United facing all of the top teams apart from Arsenal, with a trip to Anfield at the end of March followed by back-to-back games against City, Chelsea and Everton in what could, potentially, be a defining moment for United’s fortunes.

The derby and trips to Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park look particularly tricky assignments, though United could have the advantage of a fresher squad over their opponents, should City, Chelsea and Everton find themselves still involved in European competitions and, were United to emerge unscathed from those three games, they could then look forward to a reasonably easy run-in.

Trips to Crystal Palace and Hull – on the last game of the season – are preceded by a home game against West Brom, while Arsenal visit Old Trafford on the penultimate weekend of the season in what could well prove to be a title decider.

All in all, however, Van Gaal will be happy with these fixtures as the easy start will give him a chance to get settled in and give United fans something to cheer about. The feel-good factor and the expectations are there, but to live up to them United will have to deliver in the transfer window first.

Daniel Roche O’ Rourke (follow @Daniel_ROR)