Here we are again, on the cusp of yet another campaign for the Red Devils. The jubilation of the record-breaking 19th league title and the despair of coming up short against Barcelona is history, as another dawn awaits Fergie’s Red Army. At United, success has at times become synonymous with the club. No matter how much you win, you have to go out there and win it over and over again.
It all starts from the manager and perpetuates down through the entire club. Second best is not an option and excellence is the only answer. The 2011-12 season for United kicks off with a biggie – “The Manchester Derby” at Wembley in the Community Shield, as United would look to defend their crown and avenge the last outing against their much-despised neighbours at the same venue.
Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Edwin Van Der Sar, Wes Brown and John O’Shea have left the stage – all United legends in their own right. With a combined total of more than 2200 United appearances between them, it’s safe to say that the air around Old Trafford will never be the same with these luminaries leaving the hallowed turf. However the game, as it must, will go on and so will Man United.
Imminently, Sir Alex Ferguson had foreseen the overhaul and ergo United were the early pace setters in the transfer market, as new faces arrived at the Theatre of Dreams. David De Gea was signed from Atletico Madrid, as United look to replace the irreplaceable VDS; De Gea, although quite young, is one of the most promising young players in Europe and world football in general. United made further additions to the squad in the form of Englishmen Ashley Young and Phil Jones, both adding to the home-grown rule as well as bolstering the bench strength immensely. Ashley Young is a proven Premier League star and with his versatility, is a major boon whereas young Phil Jones is definitely a stand out young defender that secures United’s long term future at the back.
Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck, Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf have all returned from the loan spells and are looking to fight it out for squad places. Cleverley and Welbeck are pencilled in first team roles after stellar performances during their loan spells, whereas Macheda could be loaned out to a Premier League club to gain more experience. Diouf, on the other hand might be allowed to go, if the right offer comes in, especially since Michael Owen has been handed a one-year contract extension.
United travelled to the United States for their pre-season tour and enjoyed a nice workout. The first team regulars got much-needed playing time to sharpen their skills before the season kicks off. The likes of Anderson, Lindegaard and Cleverley among others made the most of their opportunities to impress the gaffer and stake a claim. Back at Old Trafford, there was further good news, as Darren Fletcher, who had unfortunately missed the trip due to the long-standing viral infection, made a quick recovery and could be fit for the start of the season. However there was a minor setback as last season’s fans player of the year – Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez suffered concussion and might struggle to be fit for the first game of the season.
On the whole, it was a satisfying pre-season tour to the US for the team and the manager with United looking hungry and sharp, with the victory over Barcelona proving to be a major morale booster.
Season Ahead – The Fixture List
The Red Devils begin the defence of their title with an away trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Brom – one of the few away trips that United came away with three points last season, although unconvincingly to put it mildly.
The next four games are as tough as one expects, with all the big London boys travelling to Old Trafford. In between, United head to the Reebok to face Bolton, which is always a tough away day for any side. So the first few games provide a major threat if United, who are normally slow starters, are not on their guard. However, it also represents an opportunity to steal a march over the rivals as Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have to travel to Old Trafford and United were imperious last season at fortress OT.
Adding further to the drama would be the Champions League games sandwiched between these league fixtures. Ferguson’s men first have an away trip to Bolton before matchday 1 and after that the visit from André Villas-Boas’ Chelsea, which makes the week very tricky to say the least.
But undoubtedly, Ferguson’s acid test comes in the month of October. The Red Devils travel to Anfield for the most anticipated game of the season against the old foe Liverpool with Mancini’s City visiting Old Trafford the following weekend. If that wasn’t enough, matchday 3 is positioned dauntingly in between the must win derbies and all this comes after the grueling international break which never helps any side. In short, Man United’s mettle will be tested in the mid of October.
Relatively Calm Festive Season
United would be once again looking to make the most of that crucial festive season when the league games keep flying in. Away trips to Fulham and Newcastle are never an easy proposition but along with home fixtures against Wigan and Blackburn, United would do well to capitalize on a relatively kind schedule. The squad strength will be on view during this period, as the games just keep piling in. Can United cope? Well, they always seem to manage!
Between January 21st and February 11th, United face the other three members of the erstwhile “Big four” in what could prove to be pivotal few weeks for the club. To compound matters, the cup competitions will also feature during this time with the European cup entering its exciting phase.
The Squeaky Bum Time (The Run In)
With due respect to all other clubs in the Premier League, the run in is absolutely a dream come true for any United supporter. On paper things look really promising as the months of April and May just have the big Manchester Derby at the Etihad stadium and two potential banana skins in the form of Aston Villa and Everton at the Theatre of Dreams. It’s fair to say, Sir Alex would be chewing his gum even harder in glee, although United can’t really take the foot of the gas as every mistake in the run in gets harder to redeem.
Expectations From The Side Collectively
Away Day Blues
It was easily identifiable what let United down on their last campaign; yes, the really substandard away form. United can’t even begin to go down that road again, as this time they could be punished with severe consequences. More so than the results, the performance hurt the United faithful really bad as the great side was a shadow of itself on its travels. Has Sir Alex rectified the away day syndrome? Well, it couldn’t get any worse really.
Another bugbear which plagued United’s start of the season was their inability to hold on to leads. United have been well-known to overturn deficits; however, Ferguson’s men were at the receiving end of some comebacks against them as they were given a dose of their very own medicine most notably at Goodison and Craven Cottage. Was it just a case of complacency? To be fair to the players normal service was resumed soon – hopefully a lesson well learned?
The Midfield Disappearing Act
One common problem many felt that continued to plague the Red Devils over and over again was that their midfield kept getting ran over. United couldn’t really dictate the tempo of the game from midfield and as a result the opposition was never on the back foot. The midfield signing that the fans craved for hasn’t really materialized as yet. Will United be more calm and composed on the ball or will we see some more shaky performances from the much criticized central midfield?
Expectations From Individuals
Patrice Evra: The much-loved French left back did not really have a good season last time around. Much is expected from Patrice and with United losing a lot of experienced pros, Evra needs to wake up from his slumber and get his bearings right. The twins, mostly Fabio is on heels and Paddy Evra could lose his first team slot if he continues his not-so-impressive form of the season gone by.
Wayne Rooney: So, Wayne Rooney is the leading the light at Old Trafford and he must act like it. The boy wonder disappeared for the start of the campaign, and only returned half way through the campaign. Rooney has to be the leader of the pack and put in performances that are worth his talent, time for the really Rooney to stand up.
Anderson: This will be the season when the talented Brazilian busts out of the cocoon. Although, United fans have said this all too often but hopefully “this” will be his long-awaited coming off age as there will surely be ample opportunity for Ando to make the midfield berth his very own.
Darren Fletcher: Fletcher had a disastrous time with injury and virus last time around and couldn’t really contribute much towards the United-cause in the business end of the season. Hopefully, a fit and in-form Fletcher would go a long way towards resurrecting the United midfield and for that to happen, United will definitely need the Fletcher of 2008-09 campaign back.
Jonny Evans: With the signing of Phil Jones and the impressive first season by Smalling, lots of talk about Evans’ exit has been raised. However, the Irishmen has to put the last season behind him and aim to rediscover his form, which made him an able deputy to Ferdinand and Vidic. There is no doubt about Evans’ quality but he needs to show more consistency and cut down on the errors to rise up the pecking order.
The New Signings
It’s needless to say that the new signings will be watched and dissected by all and sundry. Ergo, the likes of David De Gea, Ashley Young, and Phil Jones will have to make an instant impression on the onlookers. The spot vacated by VDS is up for grabs, although De Gea might be the slight favourite but Lindegaard has surely strengthened his case with assured displays on the US Tour.
Big Season For The Returning Devils
Danny Welbeck will surely get his chance this season and if pre-season was an indicator of things to follow, Old Trafford faithful are in for a treat. Both Welbeck and Cleverley are graduates from United’s own academy and hence their success would be another shot in the arm.
The Young Guns
Members of the last season’s F.A Youth Cup winning side, most notably Pogba, Morrison and Tunnicliffe (if he returns from his undisclosed length of loan spell from Peterborough) might also enter the fray and will surely feature in Carling Cup games.
So after all said and done, after all the smoke has cleared and the dust settled, Ferguson’s troops will once again embark on a season long expedition filled with all the inevitable twists and turns. For all the Red Devils, hopefully at the end of it all the fortress will still stand tall.