The second series or second album is always considered more difficult than the first, and it’s going to be fascinating to watch Louis van Gaal in his second season as Manchester United manager.
The vastly-experienced Dutchman was granted plenty of leeway during his first year at Old Trafford in response to the ill-fated near-season in charge of David Moyes following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
With Moyes presiding over a season which saw United finish down in seventh in the Premier League and lose at home to Swansea City in the third round of the FA Cup, there was huge scope for improvement once Van Gaal took over.
Last season’s only goal, though, was to secure a return to the Champions League and Van Gaal fulfilled his objective by leading United to fourth place in the table.
Now, though, the ambitions must be higher and delivering a trophy this season has to be considered a priority of Van Gaal. If United fail to win a trophy this season, it will be three years since they last placed a new piece of silverware in the cabinet. The last time that happened was in between the FA Cup Final wins of 1985 and 1990, which coincided with the early years of Ferguson’s glorious spell as manager.
Ferguson was given the time to rebuild the squad and it’s a similar job that Van Gaal has been doing since taking charge last year. The problem is that, given the way football has changed in the past 30 years, Van Gaal will not be afforded the same amount of time as Ferguson to deliver success to United.
Though United’s winning start to the new Premier League season has been welcomed as an indication of a potential title challenge, Van Gaal will be given a third year before that is considered a priority by the board.
However, a concerted attempt to win a cup this season must be viewed as important to ensure the club and fans don’t go a third year without something to celebrate.
Last season, United lost 4-0 to MK Dons in the second round of the Capital One Cup, but fared better in the FA Cup, albeit against lower league opposition, before losing 2-1 at home to Arsenal in the quarter-finals.
Given United’s history, a major push to reach the FA Cup final should be the target this season, along with again qualifying for the Champions League. Only Arsenal have won the FA Cup more times, but United have not been successful in the competition since 2004, when they beat Millwall.
Since then, Arsenal have won the FA Cup three times and Chelsea four times, while United have reached the final just twice, losing to the first named on penalties in 2005 and the second named in extra time in the first final back at Wembley in 2007.
There have also been just two semi-final appearances since 2007 when United were beaten on penalties by Everton in 2009 and 1-0 by Manchester City two years later.
United will be one of the favourites in the FA Cup betting this year, as they always are, and they will be expected to have a major cup run.
Winning a trophy will help to define Van Gaal’s reign as manager and give it legitimacy. Failure to do so could lead to questions being asked about whether the club have made another expensive mistake.