Louis Van Gaal’s spendthrift summer saw The Red Devils lay out a whooping A?150 million, hoping in vain for a throwback of the early glory days at Old Trafford. With the glorious paycheck bringing in the likes of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to the already impressive attacking line-up of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Juan Mata, the expectations were sky-high after Manchester United’s dismal season under David Moyes.

Eleven months in and with just nine games left to play for in the Premier League this season, Manchester United find themselves enjoying a pole position in the battle for Europe, sitting just two points below last year’s champions Manchester City. With United now looking almost comfortable in achieving Van Gaal’s ambitions of a top four finish in the Dutchmana s first season, United certainly have not disappointed the Old Trafford faithful, yet have left them yearning for a lot more in terms of performance and style of play. All season, United have been accused of grinding out victories from drab performances, mostly down to the fact that Van Gaal has tinkered with as many as 33 players in an equally large number of combinations and formations, in search of the badly sought-after ‘balance’ for the United starting eleven. It took the Dutchman 28 games to stumble upon a cohesive eleven as the home match against Tottenham Hotspur produced Uniteda s most impressive display thus far, playing some quick ruthless confident football. And the fact that neither Di Maria nor Falcao started the game says a lot more about their first season at Old Trafford than any statistic would.

RADAMEL FALCAO

Manchester United FC V Aston Villa FCThe last day of the summer transfer window this season probably saw one of the most sensational deadline day moves in recent Premier League history as Louis Van Gaal sold the academy bred Danny Welbeck to Arsenal to bring in one of the most prolific strikers of our generation, Radamel Falcao. Even though Welbecka s sale was met with grunts of displeasure by pundits and fans alike, the phenomenon of Radamel Falcao to United was too sweet a prospect to even consider back then, with the Red Devils supposedly being unable to pull in players due to the lack of Champions League football to offer.

Missing out last yeara s world cup, fresh from a knee injury the Porto poacher was under pressure from the very beginning with the striker’s world class stints at FC Porto and Athletico Madrid laying down sky-high levels of expectation and the largely expensive loan fee hanging over the Columbian’s head like a guillotine. Falcao made his United debut against Queen Park Rangers, coming on as a substitute in the 74th minute as the Reds tried to push the lead past four and started for the first time against Leicester City which ended in a surprise 5-3 loss. The Columbian had to wait four games before he scored his first but that proved to be not incentive enough as Falcao struggled for fitness and to find any sort of form through the season. Having played 18 out of the 29 possible the Madrid man recorded four goals and four assists, something that could have been credible for a striker of Welbecka s quality but even the ex-United frontman has managed seven goals and four assists for Arsenal this season.

Certainly the striker alone is not to blame for the low number of goals but Falcao still seems incapable of settling down and cementing a place in the starting eleven even after Van Gaal sticking with the Columbian throughout the Christmas period. Falcao hit a peak low in the FA Cup game against Preston North End, where the striker was unable to produce a single proper first-touch without losing possession of the ball. The final blow though came when Falcao didna t even make the starting eleven as United sunk to a FA Cup quarter-finals defeat against Arsenal from a Danny Welbeck goal, largely questioning Van Gaala s last piece of summer business.

ANGEL DI MARIA

Manchester United's Di Maria celebrates after scoring a goal against Queens Park Rangers during their English Premier League soccer match at Old Trafford in ManchesterWhen Britisha s most expensive player joined the ranks of Manchester United it was clear that the Reds meant business this season. After being thrown out of favor by Carlo Ancelotti with the transfer of Gareth Bale, the match winner of the Champions League final needed a new home, somewhere he would be valued. Guided by his teammate, the ex-United No.7, Angel Di Maria donned the United colors picking up from where Christiano Ronaldo left off for a whooping A?60 million.

And unlike his South American counterpart, the Argentinean hit the deck running with scintillating performances against QPR and Leicester. The surreal chip over the Foxes goalkeeper announced the wide mana s coming to English football and his match winning performance against Everton soon had a the extra- hefty fee doubtersa crooning his name. But alas Angel Di Maria was quick to join the ever growing United injury list, putting him out for the entire Christmas period. Even though Di Maria was back in business by the start of the New Year, the ‘Year of The Goat’ seems to be less favoring the Argentinean with the wideman hitting a poor run of games that culminated in the disastrous red card in the FA Cup Quarter- finals.

Like his South American counterpart the Arsenal game has come as a huge blow for the Madridian, obtaining a yellow card for diving and then a red for a assaulting the referee,’ which eventually cost United the game. Such immature behaviour from a Champions League winner on a big-game day has been a let down a lot to most of the Old Trafford faithful and the wideman’s recent patch of form hasn’t been of much help. But Di Maria having played 20 off a possible 29 games, has recorded eight assists and three goals which is by no means poor for a first season of English football.

VERDICT

Radamel Falcao, a player who seems to be past his peak right now will be a huge gamble, if United are to sign him for the very large A?43 million. Yet, a hard decision still with every chance of the ‘El Tigre’ getting back to his best and it would look like United provided him with a season to get out of injury troubles and it’ll hurt even more if the Columbian is to stay on in the Premier League next season.

Louis Van Gaal recently spoke on the matter ” I believe he just needs a bit of time to build his confidence and match sharpness, and it won’t be long until he is showing everybody the talent that we all know he has.”

The case of the Argentinian is very different though, having fared seemingly okay thus far to say the least and the tag of being ‘Britain’s most expensive player’ is certain to be safety net enough. Besides looking away on such a massive talent will be foolish on United’s part and also the fact that the player has found it difficult to settle down with minor off the field issues. United will definitely provide another season for their most expensive player, that is if the player’s still wants it.

As Louis Van Gaal was quoted recently “As a manager you can never say no or yes because the player at the end shall always decide, but I don’t think he shall move.”

This post was written by guest author Nikhil Sreekandan exclusively for TheHardTackle