With United safe in fourth place in the Barclays Premier League and one qualifying tie away from a return to the Champions League next season, there has been an air of satisfaction around Old Trafford as Van Gaal’s debut campaign drew to a close. In the end, United made it over the line with something to spare.
However, the scale of the task ahead of United’s veteran Dutch coach as he tries to make up ground between his squad and that of champions Chelsea is placed in stark context by analysis of his team’s struggles in front of goal.
United’s tally of 62 league goals — two fewer than under David Moyes — is the club’s second lowest total in the 23 years of the Premier League. Only 2004-05’s tally of 58 has been worse.
Meanwhile, Wayne Rooney’s record of 14 goals in all competitions this season places him as United’s top scorer. Records indicate, however, that the last time United’s top scorer returned such a modest total was a staggering 33 years ago in 1982 when Frank Stapleton scored just 13.
Though some statistics can be misleading, these are remarkable and will shock United supporters.
A look across the Premier League, for example, reveals that Rooney’s total of 12 Premier League goals was matched by the likes of Graziano Pelle at Southampton and beaten by Christian Benteke at Aston Villa, QPR’s Charlie Austin and West Brom’s Saido Berahino as well as the familiar big-name strikers at Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Nobody can blame Rooney, of course. The United captain was not even deployed as a centre forward for the whole of the season and endured a dreadful spell playing in midfield after Christmas when he didn’t manage a shot on goal for a number of weeks.
Rather, the numbers merely indicate the clear lack of incisiveness and forward thrust from a United squad that included such feted attacking players as Robin van Persie, Radamel Falcao, Juan Mata, Angel di Maria and Ander Herrera.
Van Gaal began his time at Old Trafford talking about his desire to play with two centre forwards and a No 10. His challenge this summer is to recruit the players he feels he needs to make his team more creative, especially given that the Champions League will increase the number of games his key players are required to play.
As Sportsmail has reported previously, United have considered moves for Danny Ings at Burnley and Tottenham’s Harry Kane. Neither move has really got off the ground, however, while interest in Raheem Sterling at Liverpool will simply never harden given the history between the two clubs.
Van Gaal is determined to challenge for the title but reiterated on MUTV that he needs to spend money to achieve that.
‘I’m afraid that the board shall say, “Now we have to battle for the championship”. I think it is a fantastic challenge but that is dependable on how we can purchase very good players and how we can improve the balance in our selection. In every position you need two players who can play.
‘The board has purchased me to win title and my curriculum vitae says that. Of course I want to win titles. We shall fight to the end and I shall give everything in me to build a new championship winning team.’
In terms of the players he already has, Van Gaal is all but certain to retain Van Persie. The 31-year-old earns £240,000 a week and is not keen to uproot his children from school in Cheshire.
There has, meanwhile, been talk inside Old Trafford of turning Adnan Januzaj into a central player. This, however, is more likely to be a No 10 ‘second striker’ rather than a through-the-middle target man.
And what about the man many expect to leave Old Trafford? Well, Van Gaal admits David De Gea has played a key role this season, though that surprised him.
‘He has saved us at different times in different matches. In the beginning I was not so sure of him. But now he is fantastic.’
History of United’s hitmen
Not since Stapleton in 1981-82 has United’s top scorer netted as few as the 14 hit by Rooney this season — 30 fewer than Ruud Van Nistelrooy (bottom) in 2002-03
2014-15 W Rooney 14
2013-14 W Rooney 19
2012-13 R van Persie 30
2011-12 W Rooney 34
2010-11 D Berbatov 21
2009-10 W Rooney 34
2008-09 C Ronaldo 26
2007-08 C Ronaldo 42
2006-07 Ronaldo/Rooney 23
2005-06 R van Nistelrooy 24
2004-05 W Rooney 17
2003-04 R van Nistelrooy 30
2002-03 R van Nistelrooy 44
2001-02 R van Nistelrooy 36
2000-01 T Sheringham 21
1999-00 A Cole/D Yorke 22
1998-99 D Yorke 29
1997-98 A Cole 25
1996-97 O Solskjaer 19
1995-96 E Cantona 19
1994-95 A Kanchelskis 15
1993-94 E Cantona 25
1992-93 M Hughes 16
1991-92 B McClair 24
1990-91 Hughes/McClair 21
1989-90 M Hughes 15
1988-89 Hughes/McClair 16
1987-88 B McClair 31
1986-87 P Davenport 16
1985-86 M Hughes 18
1984-85 M Hughes 24
1983-84 F Stapleton 19
1982-83 F Stapleton 19
1981-82 F Stapleton 13 – Daily Mail
Original source: Van Gaal needs a proven goal scorer