Sunday, May 13th, 2012 was the day when the Red half of Manchester plunged into a sea of despair and agony. Conversely, the cacophony surrounding the Blue half of the City seemed to transcend two oceans and several lesser seas. Thirst of a football fan and the love of a star struck child are fruit from the same tree as City’s decades long thirst was finally quenched, while United were left to ponder on what could have been.
The jeers and smears of the Sunderland fans pinched like million needles piercing through bare flesh and now that gut wrenching pain shall act as fuel to United’s fire. Sir Alex categorically reiterated to his aching players to “Remember this day”, come back stronger and reclaim their crown.
The offseason has been dominated by a lot of off field activities and most of them haven’t been pleasant. Glazers have once again come under fire and this time for their attempt at floating United’s share in the NYSE, not a successful venture one fears. The promise of lowering the mountain of debt via the money raised from issuing such shares seemed half hearted and with fans fearing the money would eventually land in Glazer family’s own pockets, unrest has given rise to a mini revolt.
Furthermore, Sir Alex’s continued praise of Glazers as non interfering owners hasn’t met with approval from sections of match going fans, with Scot’s remarks concerning “real fans” further straining the hitherto amicable relationship between the legendary manager and the United faithful.
Something has got to give and after the Green and Gold revolution failed to hit the bull’s eye and, on the contrary, ended up as a marketing gimmick, there might be another storm brewing.
Onto the on field activities which have seen the likes of Kuszczak, Owen and Park leave the shores, and Fabio DaSilva being loaned to QPR. Dimitar Berbatov remains a peripheral figure and his presence at the Theatre of Dreams remains doubtful at best. Despite the clamor in the press and parts of United support, Ferguson has resisted a major overhaul and concentrated on fine tuning his squad.
Shinji Kagawa stands out as the most important signing for the Red Devils and a cause for optimism for supporters. The Japanese has impressed all and sundry and could prove to be the final piece of jigsaw in Fergie’s carefully assembled squad, which will surely reach its pinnacle in a year or two. Nick Powell, the highly rated teenager from Crewe has also made his way to OT and would look to make his way through to the first team squad – a herculean task for someone making the step up from League Two.
Ferguson is still looking to add to his roster and one can expect another major signing or two before the end of the transfer window. However, the manager, rather astonishingly, has once again chosen to overlook the problems in central midfield, most probably because he has enough faith in the abilities of Anderson and Cleverley, and the fans must respect their manager’s decision.
Robin Van Persie, the league’s top marksman could yet prove to be the season defining coup, if Arsene Wenger decides to sell his prized asset to a rival club.
Season Ahead – The Fixture List
Tough two months early on
There are always parts of the season which seem tougher than the others and although one can’t really complain as every team gets to play every other team twice, yet one hopes the really tough encounters are nicely spaced out. Red Devils though have a period of 6 weeks where unfortunately, the tough games are clustered together.
A trip to Anfield on 22nd Sepetmber – United’s toughest away days in recent past – marks the beginning of the presumably toughest group of fixtures which end with the visit of Arsenal. Between these two titanic clashes are sandwiched trips to St. James’ Park (Sports Direct, if you may) and Stamford Bridge – a ground where United haven’t won in the league in over a decade. Furthermore, Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham also pay a visit to the Theatre of Dreams days after United visit Anfield. It is only fair to say that those six weeks could prove to be the acid test not only for the squad, but Fergie’s management of his troops.
If United could come through unscathed, perhaps they could dream of a title bid.
Relatively Calm Festive Season
This is a season to be jolly and thankfully, the fixture list seems kind enough during the hectic Christmas and new year period. An away trip to Swansea, followed by home games against Newcastle and West Brom are decent enough fixtures while the turn of the new year takes the red bus to Wigan, who hopefully wouldn’t have begun their ‘annual Houdini act ‘ so early on.
The Squeaky Bum Time (The Run In)
Man United pride themselves on handling pressure when others around them seem to flounder. Last season though, it was the Red Devils who surrendered a seemingly insurmountable eight point cushion. Nevertheless, lessons must be learnt and the manager will ensure there isn’t a repeat. Yet again, there could be a few potential slip ups on the way as visits to Emirates and Britannia could easily prove to be banana skins. Moreover, Chelsea also pay visit in the first week of May and the Blues are always a tough opposition to deal with.
Champions League trips followed by away games
As luck would have it, all six of United’s Champions League group games precede an away outing in the Barclays Premier league and that should amount to some sort of discomfort among the ranks. Ferguson would have to play an absolute masterclass so that the discomfort doesn’t actually translate into dropped points.
Expectations from the Season
Restore Fortress Old Trafford
The 6-1 demolition by Man City was a nadir, not just of the last season, but for more than a decade and rather alarmingly not an event in isolation as subsequent defeats at the hands of Athletic Bilbao and Ajax proved. The disintegration against Everton at Old Trafford proved to be the final nail in the coffin in many ways as United looked shaky at home in more than the odd game.
The opposition has traditionally feared the wrath of United’s attacking play at OT ever since time immemorial and that fear must be restored and with gusto. One of the challenges for the upcoming campaign has to be creating a daunting atmosphere at the Theatre of Dreams, making the opposition quake in their boots.
Overcome European Blues
Qualifying to the knockout stages has often been mistaken as a foregone conclusion; ergo, last season’s abysmal campaign should serve to preempt any sort of complacency that had crept in amongst the ranks. Furthermore, another successful campaign would go a long way in re-establishing United’s prowess among the game’s elite.
Europe can no longer be a ground for making wholesale changes and nothings short of imperiousness would do to satisfy fan disenchantment and Ferguson has reassured the fans of the same.
Big Seasons for…
Anderson – Sir Alex has yet again resisted the overwhelming temptation to sign fans’ knight in shining armor – a central midfield marshal. The news must come as a shot in the arm for the likes of Anderson who, despite being at the club for 5 years, has failed to establish himself in the playing eleven. Ando has had horrendous luck with respect to injuries and hopefully the Brazilian – if he stays fit – will finally showcase his undoubted talent. Make no mistakes, Anderson does bring something to the table and it was clearly evident at the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Tom Cleverley- The Englishman has time on his hands and the ability to boot as Tom is surely the biggest talent to come out of the famed youth academy in recent times. Injury robbed him off a promising debut season and his return failed to ignite much excitement. New season and new vigor seems to have reinvigorated Cleverley and after a good display at the Olympics for Team GB, this season could finally launch his United and England career to mountaineering heights. Fans should also let Cleverley flourish rather than burden him weight of their expectations. Cleverly will have bad games given his age and inexperience, but his potential should be trusted and given a chance to develop.
Patrice Evra- Evra’s form has nosedived and it is no more a secret. Sir Alex has looked at potential left-backs to shoulder the Frenchman’s burden but no signings seem imminent at the moment. Also, with Fabio already sent on loan to QPR, Evra remains the only top quality option in his position at the moment. Can Evra regain his mojo? Testing times lie ahead.
Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez – Chicho took to life in England like a duck to water and breezed through his first season at Old Trafford with 20 goals. But the winds changed their course suddenly and the Mexican found life a bit difficult in his 2nd season. Welbeck seems to have stolen a march meanwhile and Chicharito has stiff competition on his hands. If RVP arrives to further bolster the striking department, Hernandez will have to really play out of his skin to starve off such fierce competition. On the brighter side, Hernandez has had a month off for the first time in 2 seasons and the United manager thinks that is all the Mexican needed to regain his sharpness.
The Club, as a whole, will look to bounce straight back as second best has never satisfied anyone associated with Manchester United. The gauntlet has been thrown and Fergie’s men must take up the challenge and restore normalcy to the proceedings and more importantly to the city of Manchester.