13th May 2012 – The day when Manchester City scored two injury time goals against Queens Park Rangers and grabbed the Premier League, will forever be inked in the minds of Manchester United and its fans. The feeling of triumph turned into tears of despair within a matter of seconds on the red side of Manchester. To be fair, United had a plethora of injuries throughout the season and yet they only lost their crown on goal difference. But as they say, history only remembers winners and not the ones finishing second. The Red Devils ended up trophy less for the first time since the 2005-06 season when Chelsea were under Jose Mourinho. The new season emerges and with it come new expectations. New players joining the club while some players leaving.
Traditionally United are slow starters in the league and gather pace at the business end of the season. Last season was bit of an exception, when the Reds set the pace, only to uncharacteristically falter in the mid season. Sir Alex Ferguson will be hoping that history doesn’t repeat itself. A big problem last season was the ridiculous number of injuries that the players endured. Talismanic captain Nemanja Vidic, one of the notable absentees. Michael Carrick, a midfielder by-trade had to play as makeshift central defender. Vidic, Ferdinand, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Cleverly, Welbeck were all missing at one point of time or the other. The midfield crisis was so bad that Paul Scholes, who had retired at the end of 2010-11 season came out of retirement to help the cause. Despite all the injury problems, losing the title only on goal difference is a commendable feat but at Manchester United, being second is simply not good enough.
So, how do United stack up for the new season? We’ll look at each area one at a time.
DEFENSE – Last Season David de Gea, the Spanish prodigy endured a torrid time at the start of his Manchester United career. All the media attention and the fact that United never really had a consistent back four in the defensive line did not really help. He made numerous mistakes which were punished and the points tally suffered. He was dropped and Lindegard took his place. The Dane looked much more comfortable and settled. An unfortunate injury ruled him and De Gea took his place and never looked back. Stunning saves and assured performances followed. The unbelievable stretch to deny compatriot Jaun Mata in the 3-3 draw against Chelsea was just the start.
Vidic, the United captain is also back and is raring to go. Ferdinand and Vidic have formed a rock solid partnership over the past and fans would be hoping that the pair stay fit and make United impossible to break down. Last season in the absence of Vidic, Ferdinand did assume the mantle but he is also a bit injury prone. Jonny Evans, the eternal scapegoat was brilliant last season and proved the critics wrong. Jones and Smalling are still in the starting phase of their careers at Manchester United. While they had their moments last season, lapses in concentration and a bit of naivety was clear in their performances. They will only get better as time wears on.
The full back areas are a concern. Rafael da Silva, while undoubtedly talented is known for his acts of immaturity. He is the first choice right back and should with time get mature. This is the season where he needs to step up. Patrice Evra, the first choice left back is an even bigger problem. One of the best while going forward, he has been poor in his defensive duties. Time and again his weaknesses have been exposed. With Fabio, Rafael’s twin brother loaned to QPR, Evra remains the only recognized left back and if his form of last season doesn’t wash up, United will need a lot more than just the Ferdinand Vidic partnership to save them. A lot of the academy players have been drafted into the first team this season. Scott Wooton, Michael Keane, Frederic Veseli, Tyler Blackett will be hoping to be given the chance to impress the manager in the short playing time they might get.
MIDFIELD – This is an area of concern for the Red Devils. Not that they are short stacked or anything but the absence of a genuine defensive midfielder is a cause of worry. Carrick has been great since he joined United but he does go missing in the big matches which is surprising because he was the best midfielder last season. Scholes and Giggs aren’t getting any younger. Tom Cleverly and Anderson seemed to tick all the right boxes at the start of the season but Cleverly got injured and Anderson dropped down in obscurity. Before Cleverly got injured last season, him and Anderson were setting the league alight and United were scoring for fun. Cleverly’s injury resulted in the drop of the swashbuckling play and United were never the same again. If Cleverly (a big IF) stays fit for most part of the season, a part of the problem will be solved. Shinji Kagawa, the Japanese signed from Dortmund will be playing in a new league and expecting miracles from him in the first season will be a tad hopeful. Nick Powell, the other new signing is one for the future. He will not be thrust into the first team, rather just be on the fringes so that he could gain experience. Academy players like Lingard, Tuncliffe, Petrucci and other will be hoping to get a run out as they did in the pre season tours. Any experience they might get will be an added bonus as these are the ones for the future rather than the present.
ATTACK – This is one area that United are abundantly blessed with. Rooney, Welbeck, Hernandez, Berbatov, Macheda. The Chilean teenager Henriquez as well, although he might be loaned back. After the Robin van Persie joining the squad, United have the problem of plenty. In the treble winning season 1999, United had Yorke, Cole, Sheringham and Solskjaer as their strike force which instilled fear in the opposition.
Desposed as champions, humbled in Europe and the domestic cups last term, Sir Alex takes his side into 2012/13 with a variety of points to prove. His response has been to pimp his attack in its invention and execution. The vision, movement and intelligence of Shinji Kagawa will offer a new creativity; the finishing and swagger of van Persie promises a menacing destruction.
The current crop of players may not be there yet but they have all the making of turning into a deadly force which terrifies the defenders. The goal difference was the reason United lost the league title and Sir Alex will ensure that United score enough goals to keep the goal difference factor in their favour.
Manchester United start their campaign away to Everton on Monday 20th Aug,2012. Goodison Park is where United lost the initiative last season after squandering a two goal lead and sharing the points with Everton. They will want to make sure the Goodison hoodoo doesn’t strike again and a positive start is made.
Expectations are always high with United. Be it the league or be it Europe. Can they banish the disappointments of last season and regain lost pride? Only time will tell.
BY : ABHIMANYU HALAKHANDI