Ahead of Saturday's game at Old Trafford, we spoke to United fans Darren from
theunitedpages.com and Paul who co-hosts the pod-cast at unitedrant.co.uk. They gave us their views on United's start to the season, their Champions League prospects, Louis van Gaal, and more.

You can follow Darren and his site on twitter @theunitedpages whilst Paul can be found at @UtdRantcast.

How would you view United's start to the season?

Darren: Unlike the press and a vocal few I'm relatively happy with it. We're a handful of points off top spot and well placed to qualify for the Champions League. I really can't see what the fuss is about.

Paul: It's been a thoroughly mixed bag. Ground out some early results, had a few wobbles, rarely looked convincing, but we're top of our Champions League group and not miles out of touch with the league leaders. But the last month has been rough. 

Louis van Gaal seems to have been the focus of a lot of negative press recently, what's the current feeling of the Old Trafford faithful towards him?

Darren: I would have said the majority were behind him. I think a few really let themselves down on Wednesday chanting for the team to 'attack' when the whole game was played in CSKA Moscow's half and then booing when Martial was rightly substituted. They need to get a grip. Van Gaal is doing a good job in very tricky circumstances, they need to cut him some slack. The problem is that we have been spoilt under Fergie. People have very short memories in football, they seem to think we won every game 8-0 back then when the reality is that we played crap quite a bit but a late goal dug us out the crap.

Paul: Well, that depends on whom you ask. The CSKA game saw the crowd loudly boo Van Gaal's tactical switch when he brought Marouane Fellaini on for Anthony Martial. The entire Stretford End rang out with chants of "we're Man United we want to attack." He has plenty of people prepared to continue allowing him to try and build whatever it is that he's trying to build, plenty of people that hate the football we're playing under him but I'd guess relatively few huge fans among the United faithful. 

There's been a distinct lack of goals scored by United this season, any particular reason why?

Darren: United have been trying to get used to a new style and shape and so far have not managed to find a balance that works. Understandably the goals have dried up a bit but I'm not overly concerned. Once a couple of key players regain their confidence and settle into a position, or pattern of play they are used to then the goals will come. Confidence is a footballers fuel. Without it even the very best of players can suffer. A lot of focus has been put on the not scoring but nobody seems to appreciate that we aren't conceding goals. We look a good unit across the back line and midfield and that is vital if you eventually want to win anything.

Paul: Van Gaal's reticence to pick attacking line ups is problematic. He has frequently played two holding midfielders in games which were crying out for invention. Then there's Wayne Rooney, who's having a shocking season, which the manager seems reluctant to do anything about.  

After Tuesday's victory over CSKA, United look in a good position to progress to the next stage of the Champions League, how far can you go in the competition this season?

Darren: I'm hopelessly biased so don't be surprised when I say we can go all the way. In this competition you really have to be able to go away and get something and I fully believe that this team can. United will always give anyone a game at Old Trafford. Then its down to luck and how the footballing gods call it! Bayern and Barcelona will take some beating but other than that its much of a muchness.

Paul: Who knows? The side that got to the final in 2011 were hardly vintage, and the luck of the draw plays such a big factor. But, quality wise, we look miles short of, say, Real, Bayern or Barca. 

Now we're a couple of months down the line, how would you rate United's summer transfer dealings?

Darren: A lot moaned about not getting a centre half but Van Gaal always wanted somebody at the back that can actually play football. Otamendi and Hummels can't do that. In essence they are just big stoppers and we have that at United already. Memphis has largely disappointed so far but it's clear he has the ability. Martial is brilliant, so is Schweinsteiger. Darmian started really well but has struggled of late. Schneiderlin is fantastic and gives us a solidity in midfield that we haven't had for ages. You look at who was actually available and all things considered we did ok. I think another forward player will come in when the window opens again in January. How much you want for Berahino? (joking!)

Paul: Very good - one of the reasons I think Van Gaal deserves perhaps a fraction more credit than he's getting. Most of the deadwood of the late-period Ferguson era have been cleared out. The midfield has been well strengthened and Anthony Martial has been a revelation. It hasn't all worked - Memphis is really struggling, but most of the business was good. Hard not to think that not going after a centre-back will not cost us at some point, although it has rarely done so thus far, and holding on to De Gea in the manner we did was both hilarious and vital for United's defensive strength this season. 

Who's caught the eye for United so far this season?

Darren: Two in particular. The new signing at the back Mike Smalling. You might know his twin brother Chris who played for us a few seasons ago and was very hit and miss! Since Louis mangled his name up Smalling has been awesome. Who knew it was just an identity crisis that was holding him back? Best centre back in the league for me right now. Of course the other is Anthony Martial. He is simply a phenomenon. He has that dead eye thing that the very top strikers have, where he very rarely seems phased by anything. With a bit of luck he'll be a real world star in 3 years.

Paul: Martial has been the one attacking stand out. But the most consistent player in the squad has been Chris Smalling. I can't think of a Premier League centre half I'd swap him for on this season's form and that's not something many United fans thought they'd be saying around 18 months ago. 

Anyone been particularly disappointing?

Darren: Memphis. Started promisingly but really struggled of late. His decision making is really poor and I think what Danny Blind, the Holland manager, said about him not being a team player is pretty much bang on. Too many times he tries to take a player on or do a trick when the simple thing would be so much more effective. I do remember being frustrated by a certain young Portuguese player who used to do the same in his early days at Old Trafford and he turned out ok. Young players do have a dip at times, I'm sure he'll come good.

Paul: Rooney. He's not the only one who's struggled - Juan Mata has only very briefly sparkled, but Rooney has been almost exclusively dreadful. 

Prediction for United's season?

Darren: At least second and a decent run in the Champions League. We're more than capable and there is money to spend in January.

Paul: 3rd. Unless something really weird happens. 

Prediction for Albion's season?

Darren: I look at your side and I think you are very functional. Tony Pulis sides are always set up really well so you'll be tough to beat but I think you will struggle to win games at times so I'll say about 13th for you. I like West Brom as a club so I'd like to see you do well in a cup, give your fans a bit of something to make up for the tough times.

Paul: No relegation battle, no Europa League battle. Does that seem fair? 

Premier League champs?

Darren: I think its us or City. Arsenal have done some good business in getting Petr Cech but I still think they are soft centred. Yes I know they beat us but we had a tremendous brain fart that day and set up terribly. Finish above City this season and you'll win the league.

Paul: Please don't make me answer this (City). 


Darren: Norwich look in a bit of trouble already. Bournemouth had some awful injuries and they'll struggle to avoid it. Your friends across the city, Aston Villa will also struggle to escape it. I saw them against Swansea and they were just so, so bad

Paul: Bournemouth, Newcastle, Norwich. If Big Sam hadn't gone there I'd have said Sunderland instead of Norwich. 

Thoughts and prediction for Saturday's game? How are United likely to line-up?

Darren: I think we'll win and I think now the goal 'hoodoo' has been broken we can get a couple. I'm going 2-0 to United. I'm expecting the back four the same as against CSKA with Ashley Young at right back, Smalling and Blind in the middle and Rojo left back. I'm thinking that Herrera and Schneiderlin will come into midfield to give us some legs, Lingard right again with Mata left and Rooney and Martial up top. It not be a 4-4-2, we'll have people in holes and withdrawn and such like. We have to win the battle against your guys and then hopefully our football will come through.

Paul: United will play 4-2-3-1 and will hog possession. The crowd will get on the team's back if they don't get a goal before half time. Pulis vs Van Gaal seems unlikely to bring about a classic, I'll go with 1-0 to United. 


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