By Tom Bell.
Manchester United’s opening game of the season saw Sir Alex’s team secure an away win against a resilient West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns. We learnt a few things in that match. Ashley Young appears to be a shrewd piece of business, David de Gea may require time to settle into Premier League football, the impressive Tom Cleverley continues to shine and the performance was a marked improvement to United’s away form of last season.
Tottenham Hotspur are the first of a double bill at Old Trafford against North London opposition. Manager Harry Redknapp will be fully aware of the visitors’ poor recent record against the Champions, with their last victory coming in 2001. However, Redknapp will be buoyed by his team’s 5-0 victory over Hearts in the Europa League play-off and will enter the fixture with a determination to start the new campaign brightly.
Team selection thoughts
What defensive crisis?
The West Brom game saw both Man United’s first choice centre-halves limp off with injuries. Sir Alex, in Friday’s press conference confirmed Rio Ferdinand’s injury is better than first feared and may return for the fixture against Arsenal. Meanwhile Captain Nemanja Vidic has been ruled out for 4/5 weeks, after straining his calf muscle. This leaves United with a worrying injury list, with three of our first choice defensive quartet out.
However, every cloud has a silver lining, with every crisis comes an opportunity. Chris Smalling has played the first two games of the season at right back and has made a seemingly effortless transition, looking quick and strong. The centre back pairing is likely to be home-debutant Phil Jones, who’ll be eager to show his new club what he can do, as well as our new number six – Jonny Evans. The pair finished the West Brom game together in defence and there partnership looked strong. Evra will return and add experience to the young backline.
Back to two flying wingers?
Ashley Young looked very dangerous in our season opener. He played a massive part in both goals and looked the game’s most dangerous player. The thought of both Young and Nani on each wing is mouth-watering – terrifyingly quick, both with a keen eye for goal and equally talented with either foot allowing the pair to swap wings. Young, Rooney, Welbeck and Nani offer the prospect of movement, fluidity and the interchanging of positions which will present challenges to the most resolute defence. Oh, and don’t forget Dimitar Berbatov, last season’s golden boot holder, who can offer a different attacking element.
You can’t win anything with kids.
Mr. Hanson and his peers may exercise greater caution before repeating his now infamous comment. In our first two competitive games this season, we have seen several younger players including Danny Welbeck who has started both games, as has Chris Smalling and David de Gea. Questions have been raised over de Gea’s confidence and quite remarkably, his ability. The young lad is twenty years old and has just signed for the biggest club in the world. Give him a chance eh?
I think it’s likely we’ll see Danny Welbeck start up front for a third game running, he injects a tempo into the front two, interchanging with Wayne Rooney.
Last season we beat Spurs 2-0 at home and drew 0-0 away using a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation. I think we’ll see the same formation on Monday with both Nani and Young on the wings. I think Fergie may opt for a Carrick/Anderson central midfield partnership as the former holds that crucial level of experience over Cleverley. I imagine the impressive Cleverley will feature at some point in the game though.
We like a discussion at Stretford End Arising, so as per usual, we try and speak to an opposing fan(s) before the game and see things from the other side. We spoke to members of Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Site forum.
Spurs have a great opportunity on Monday. Van Der Sar has to be one of, if not THE finest goalkeeper to grace the Premier League and I don’t exactly envy David De Gea for the size of the boots he needs to fill. He probably will come of age, but by then, it might be too late in terms of United’s title hopes. De Gea’s rather shaky performances are indicating how important Van Der Sar was to many of your club’s recent successes. With Van Der Sar between the sticks, letting more than one goal in through your defence didn’t happen often. No disrespect to the new young Spanish goalie, but Spurs now have their best chance to win on Monday, based purely on the current standard of De Gea. Even Kuszczak would be a safer bet on Monday as he knows Premier League teams better – Experience.
Expect our strongest team possible, which might not be that strong at all considering the barrage of injuries we face yet again. Sandro and Huddlestone are two bulky presences in centre-midfield who will not be available, leaving our core very soft and vulnerable. Bale, Van Der Vaart and Defoe should feature on Monday, backed up by our regular defenders Dawson and Assou-Ekotto, two solid defenders who can deal with anyone.
With all that said, United’s weaknesses lie in the goalkeeper position and centre-midfield. The first-choice keeper needs more experience and centre-midfield haven’t got the physical presence to win the ball often….but then again nor do Spurs at the moment!
We’re better than Arsenal this year, I reckon, and Liverpool have signed a bunch of mid table no hopers. Henderson, Carroll, Enrique, Adam? Give me a break. Unfortunately yourselves, Manchester City and Chelsea will be in a league of their own so I think we have a brilliant chance of reclaiming 4th. Of course, that’s if we keep hold of Modric. If we can add a striker (Adebayor hopefully!) then 4th shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Our biggest issue last season was dropping points against the worst sides in the league. It is a problem that you think could be remedied pretty easily, but with Spurs you just never know. If we take more points from these sorts of sides I don’t think 4th is out of the question. People say that Liverpool will be much better… I’m not buying it. Just because you over pay for mediocre players doesn’t mean they are going to turn good. I think that 4th is certainly possible, but just to remain a bit realistic I’ll go with a 5th place finish for Spurs once again.
Not qualifying for Champions League football isn’t necessarily a bitter blow, more of a reality check. For us as fans, Harry as a manager and the players as a team. I think a lot of people thought around the club that we had a given right to be in it for the next ten years, and because we were bloody fantastic in it last year, I think we thought that they might say, “yeah, Spurs were a good laugh, bring ’em back” but obviously not! Just a reminder that it’s not a given right, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to do it again!
Mental improvements to squad rather than personnel
At this point, the difference isn’t huge between the 2010/11 and 2011/12 squads. Without considering any transfers that might occur, what the squad really needs is for the strikers to find a bit of form again, most notably Jermain Defoe. He has shown that he can score in this league and score pretty often. He was injured for large portions of last year and I like to believe he never fully recovered from that. I’m not ready to give up on him as I think he still has a lot to offer. We need a 20 goal a season striker we had two, but you took one, and Liverpool took the other and sucked his talent out of him. Get an Adebayor playing off Van der Vaart and oh my, it will be good fun to watch. But, at the moment, same squad, we’ll probably get mugged off by a dodgy decision at around 9.30pm on Monday evening.
Improvements have been made with the squad’s mental attitude to matches. Not giving up when the other team scores first, but they still sit back on a two-goal lead unlike Manchester United (another factor which may become apparent on Monday), thinking they’re home and free, but then it becomes a draw. Apart from that, nothing has changed much in the way of what departments are lacking. They’ve actually got worse. The strikers have lost their prowess in front of goal. Hence the need for a striker with all-round ability, like Adebayor.
Same old, same old. Big club wants player, big club unsettles player, big club offers stupidly low amount of money, big club comes in with hours to go before the window shuts and takes the player for a price that is so inflated that even the increase in price of Freddo Chocolate Bars looks reasonable! I’d like to keep him, but he’s acted like a right git, so I won’t be too upset. Sad really, but that is the nature of things in the Premier League, isn’t it? It’s our own fault for not finishing fourth again, but I have to admit that you lose a bit of respect for a guy when he says he wants to move to one of your biggest rivals. I have a feeling that Chelsea will come in with a big, big offer (cash plus player) and ultimately we won’t be able to turn it down, especially considering Modric’s desire to leave. What is disappointing that with him and a few signings I think we have a great shot to finish fourth, maybe higher. Hope Levy sticks to his guns, but we shall see.
Ledley King vs Wayne Rooney
Rooney scored our first goal of the season against West Brom following a fantastic flick to Ashley Young. He looked sharp throughout the match, following a pre-season that was unusually unproblematic. There were no injury worries or suspensions for Wayne, and he has had a full summer under his belt to rest up for the new season. King however is a big solid centre-half and can be a massive hindrance to Rooney’s game if he plays to his ability.
Ashley Young vs Kyle Walker
The battle between Young and Walker is an intriguing contest. The former Villa man has impressed since his summer arrival and has adapted very well to the United line-up. England U21 International Walker was mightily impressive during the recent Euro 2011 U21 competition in Denmark, often providing an attacking intent to a lacklustre England. Walker will hope to nullify the threat of Young by ensuring the winger is forced into deeper areas. If Young can get the better of Walker, it could give United the crucial edge.
Luka Modric vs Anderson
So far this season Anderson has adopted a slightly deeper role in midfield, with a fair amount of success. The Brazilian is slowly but surely developing into a constant performer; knowing when to retain possession (highlighted by his pass completion stats against West Brom – 55 completed passes out of a total of 59) and when to attempt a more adventurous pass.
A Spurs fan said, “Luka Modric is an exceptional talent capable of orchestrating the midfield area and positively dictates everything good about Spurs’ attacking movement. There is only one winner between the pair. I don’t rate Anderson that highly. On his day, he can be very good, but he is too inconsistent in my opinion. Are you sure he will start against us? I was thinking maybe Carrick and Cleverley in the middle”.
I predict a low scoring game with Fergie opting for a bit more experience in midfield to help the young back line. I think he will look to counter attack, as will Redknapp’s Tottenham side. It’ll be Spurs’ first Premiership game of the season and I think they’ll be happy settling on a point at Old Trafford. However, any sign of weakness in the young United defence, will see the creative talents of Van der Vaart and Modric prosper.
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