The second part of my 2011/12 season preview will focus solely on Manchester United and the likelihood of success in the EPL and ECL. I briefly went through the top five or six teams in part one and have predicted that City would finish second, Liverpool third, Arsenal fourth and Chelsea and Spurs fighting it out for fifth. Obviously nothing is written in stone and injuries, bad luck and poor player form could derail the best of teams, but I do believe that when one looks at things closely enough, Manchester United are not only better than last years club, they look capable of running away with it.
After the top six teams, the league is overflowing with talentless clubs loaded with rubbish players and managers (excluding Brucey and a few others) and determined to bore us to death with their perpetual and terminal strategy of parking the bus and long direct ball-itis. They aren’t even worth writing a few lines about.
United have gone through a lot of turmoil and dishonest management over the years but thanks to Fergie, they remain a threat on the pitch and fully committed to owning the English Premier League (with the best premier league betting odds). Last year they played average if not disappointing football and still won the league by nine points. This year they add three great young players and possibly more to come and only seem better than they were a year ago.
Yes City bought Aguero and Clichy and are loaded with talent but they still do not have the belief, consistency and experience to really wrestle the title from us unless we suffer from some crippling injuries to major players of our starting eleven. Obviously losing a Rooney a Nani or a Chicharito for an extended time could derail our hopes because these players are vital to our success. However, all teams suffer injuries. What we can almost guarantee is that our manager will rotate accordingly, keep players fresh, focused and determined while never allowing complacency, arrogance and over confidence to dent the squads chances of a repeat.
Unlike City, United are a team and not eleven individuals trying to be a team. We have no cancers on our team like a Balotelli or Tevez who seem only interested in what concerns them with little regard for the team and community they represent. United may be going through Hell because of their present ownership but as long as Fergie is running the ship, expect the team to dominate the league despite having some key weaknesses and question marks. At the end of the day
The differences between Manchester United and Manchester City are class and pedigree.
So if we are to win another EPL title, what are the concerns or weaknesses the club have to fix? Well, to be honest, in order to win the EPL for a twentieth time, the reality of the situation dictates that United really do not have to do much in order guarantee success. More of the same is required. Do we need to upgrade our central midfield play by buying a player or two in order for victory to be ensured? No, not if winning the EPL title and domestic cups are our only concerns. Frankly, we are good enough as is. But yes, we must address that major weak point to the club when it comes to winning in Europe. Right now we are good enough to possibly make the semi-finals and even the final with lucky draws but are we better than Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich? My feeling is we aren’t.
Possibly Bayern can be beaten although with Neuer in goal for them, that has become more difficult than it was last season or two years ago when we somehow found a way to lose to them. But Barca and Madrid are an entirely different kettle of fish. These are not clubs, they are all star teams, juggernauts and so laced with star appeal and potential as well as exceptional coaching that I honestly do not feel we have a hope in Hell of presently beating them in meaningful cup ties.
Forget the just played exhibition match in Washington where we hardly saw the ball all evening against a weakened Barca but still found a way to beat them. Hell, Chivas beat them 4-1 the other day. Meaningless games say nothing. European Cup Finals say it all. And for me United are as good as their last game played in Europe. That I believe was a 1-3 humiliation at the feet of the Mighty Barcelona. Not a lesson was learned from three years ago and not a player changed in the midfield to ensure us a better outcome. For us to beat Barcelona when it matters, we must ensure that Xavi and Iniesta do not have time on the ball and when our midfield has the ball, they actually hold on to it and do something with it. That is why we need not one but two central midfielders of world class caliber.
All the talk lately has been about Wesley Sneijder and whether he is or isn’t what we need? I say he is part one of a three part plan in beating the Spanish giants. Part two is finding a world class holding midfielder or box to box player who can control Barca’s duo as well as instigate a strong counter. For me Modric or Schweinsteiger are obvious choices but unavailable ones. Sneijder paired with either Carrick or Fletcher is an improvement but not the solution. Unlike many, I have faith that Sneijder can come over here and adapt to our style despite being more suited to a Mourinhoesque 4-2-3-1. Fact is this player isn’t world class because he isn’t adaptable. I’ve seen him play across the midfield for Ajax, Holland and Inter and he is versatile. Hell he’s Dutch and technical skill and versatility are part of the Dutch DNA.
Sneijder will not woo us with his defensive game but then again, neither did Paul Scholes and both Xavi and Iniesta are not world class due to their defensive capabilities. What Sneijder can do is help us instigate counters, offer up world class balls to our strikers, score the odd goal himself and really upgrade our set piece potential. That alone improves our chance against Barca but smothering Xavi and Iniesta still needs to be Plan A. Only an in your face physical and speedy midfielder like a Roy Keane type can really do that job. Good luck finding him I say. The third part of the plan is Fergie needs to upgrade his coaching staff and or at least his strategy and tactics for facing these types of teams. Not easy when you are a frugal and stubborn old Scotsman. We need to forget about 4-4-2 in Europe as well, we need to abolish that awful sagging back zone defense that gives away possession and the midfield to skilful players.
United should win an unprecedented twentieth EPL title this year because they are the best team with the deepest roster and best manager in England. Of this I have no doubts unless we lose Rooney or a few others due to injury, then all bets are off. How we do in Europe really depends on whom we sign, if we sign anyone before the deadline. Let me emphasize the fact that a Sneijder and Carrick midfield will not be good enough. Sneijder and either Modric or Schweinsteiger would put us on par with the Catalans but then again, I cannot see us dishing out 75 million to get Sneijder and either of those two players. So until we do, expect a repeat of what happened last year, but with a little more youth and vigor to our side.
De Gea will be good but will he be an instant hit? I don’t think so. Jones will be as good as Smalling but right now neither of those two are on the same level as Rio and Vidic and so a healthy Rio will help us go far. Nani, Valencia, Young and Park will give us quality and depth on the wings and our forwards are top class and go six deep. For me LB is a concern because one would have to be wearing blinkers not to notice how poor Evra was last year. Anderson has improved but still, he is not the answer in midfield and neither is Carrick, Fletcher, Cleverley, Gibson or Giggsy. A solution must be found.
Yes we will win the EPL and we might even have a chance at the Carling Cup or FA Cup to ensure us a Double, but that is where it ends. That would be more than adequate for most but for myself, only beating Barcelona in Europe matters and until that is done, I will consider the job incomplete and my hopes ruined, although I must say, smoking Liverpool, City, Chelsea and Arsenal this season would certainly help.