How will Manchester United get on in their opening season under David Moyes?
Manchester United season preview:
Last season: Premier League: Winners. Top Scorer: Robin van Persie (26). FA Cup: sixth round.League Cup: Fourth Round.Champions League: Round of 16. Discipline: Yellow 57 Red 1.
The general feeling is that David Moyes has the hardest job in football succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson. He doesn't have the legendary manager's aura of invincibility, notes Spurs' gaffer Andre Villas-Boas, while Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard is expecting a 'wobble' from the champions.
10 Year Record:
12/13 1st, 11/12 2nd, 10/11 1st, 09/10 2nd, 08/09 1st, 07/08 1st, 06/07 1st, 05/06 2nd, 04/05 3rd, 03/04 3rd.
David Moyes has even rattled Wayne Rooney with an unfortunate clumsy gaff in his early tenure, and hit the proverbial brick wall with public overtones, media induced or otherwise, in luring Barcelona midfielders Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara to Old Trafford.
Yet as we are aware, if there is one football club that has history in defying expectations it's Manchester United.
Last season United engineered 28 wins - the third-highest victory total in the Premier League history - and had won the Premiership Title with four games to spare. Many pundits and some quarters of the media were of the opinion this isn't a great United side!
All of which will give Mr Moyes double reason for motivation. One: the consensus of opinion is a load of squawking nonsense; and two: United don't need to be firing on all cylinders to win competitions.
Replacing a worldwide institution won't be simple, but the experienced former Goodison boss will be doing it with the aid of the players who perform in the chase for the title annually. Anticipate the same again.
The One Man Team Scenario?
Robin van Persie's deadly finishing masks a host of weaknesses, from an ageing and injury-susceptible centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic to threadbare variety in midfield, to a front line unable to compete with van Persie's goal-scoring prowess. Consensus of opinion again remove RVP and they're not that great, are they?
Well .... United are that good. The Dutchman did indeed net 26 League goals last campaign, but the other 60 strikes were spread across 19 different players. The goals for total of 86 has only been beaten three times in the Premier League era.
At the rear-guard Jonny Evans and Rafael da Silva developed into mature first-team stalwarts. While Michael Carrick's control and vision probing for openings, saw the midfielder awarded United's Player's Player of the Year. While it's fair to say United last season were not in sparkling form, at their dominant best, it's worth noting only a last minute strike from Sergio Aguero stopped this United side from registering three titles consecutively.
Newcastle United in 2001-02 are the only team to have picked up more points from losing positions (34) than the hard-fought (29) Manchester United clawed back from possible defeat. This group of Manchester United players just don't know when they are beaten.
The 28 Premier League games United ran out winners last season, has only been surpassed by Chelsea (29) in 2004/05 and 2005/06. Not too bad for a 'Not Great United side.' Pertinently this United side hit the woodwork on 24 occasions last season, more than any other team in the Premier League.
Expectation for this Campaign?
The United Faithful hope it isn't a shambles. The players who did themselves justice last term perform to the same level again, and the underperformers (like Nani, Anderson, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia) can recapture the form we have seen, in some cases sporadically, in the past, which would be a welcome addition of more firepower to the United weaponry.
With luck, United need to avoid injuries to key players, Robin van Persei, the midfield lynch-pin Michael Carrick and the vastly improved David De Gea.
With the most horrible of 6 fixtures to start the season, including Chelsea at Old Trafford, Liverpool away 5 days later, with Manchester City on the immediate horizon, it could be doom and despair.
However there is the whole season to recover if the start is poor, United could be looking up the table, but the tortoise and the hare springs to mind.
With Chelsea and City strengthening substantially, new managers in place at three of the top-clubs, the transfer window still open it's a lottery to predict a League Champion. United will be in the mix, no doubt, but Chelsea with the Mourinho factor and his feel-good factor, knowledge of the Premier League; are the team to watch!
Main fear this season?
That David Moyes isn't given time bearing in mind he has a six-year contract, and he can't immediately get to grips running one of the biggest football clubs in the world. The Boss achieved marvels at Everton for 11 years, most fans of other clubs would be over the moon if David Moyes was their manager, but it's night and day, under the microscopic detail at Manchester United managing Champions and the expectation at the club.
His Achilles' heel maybe the financially rewarding European Champions League to satisfy the United bean counters, where his European knowledge is limited, and Sir Alex Ferguson (out with Aberdeen) took many years to master how to play the best in Europe.
Vital Players this Campaign?
I would like to believe with the transfer window, 18 days to closing that Mr Moyes and the United board are working extremely hard in secret to secure That Huge Signing that will lift everybody's spirits and enthusiasm for the fight this season. Ideally a world-class defensive midfielder would be my priority on United's shopping list this window. It's not asking much Mr Moyes?
To deal with the Wayne Rooney shambles, get him simply to say in unequivocal terms "I want to stay at the best club in the world." We move on.
Otherwise it's difficult to ignore and why would you, Robin van Persie - the top goal scorer in the league for the last two terms, critical and a born-winner for United. Michael Carrick a unsung hero, until last season, getting the wide acclaim he richly merited, the skilled midfielder is the culture and finesse in the best Barcelona-esque style; invaluable.
The player to make the breakthrough to shine at United?
I would put my money on Wilfried Zaha to blitz the Premier League, he looked awesome in the pre-season games and not in the least fazed with the company he is playing with or against.
He appears to have the confidence and the mentality to step up from the Championship where he was one of the gems in that league. It's strange to think Zaha was linked with loan-transfers to other clubs a short time ago, that would be a backward step based on Wilfried's performances to date, he needs to be stretched in his ambitions to be a world class player. No better place to start than playing and learning from the professionals at Manchester United.
The Belgian youngster Adnan Januzaj has also captured the imagination as to his potential from the Under 21's games last season and the summer tour, there is so much fantastic skill and fearless ability at his age. To develop that raw potential I would imagine, well hope, that Januzaj would be offered starting roles in the FA Cup and Capital One Cup games.
David Moyes retaining the players who have been the course before, should have enough ability to ensure that a minimum of a top three place is maintained, anything else will be seen as a step-backwards for the Scot.
Major concerns Manchester City and Chelsea's financial muscle being flexed in seriously strengthening their squads, and in City's case removing several disruptive influences, improving harmony at the Etihad. Similar to Mr Moyes two experienced managers at City and Chelsea with something to prove to the fans, but who has the nous for the season ahead?
United to pull a rabbit out of the hat before the transfer window closes, adding that massive signing that makes a huge difference. League winners!
Do you share that optimistic view? Let us know...
image: © Jason Gulledge