The opening day of the season is one marked on the calendar of all football fans, one which gives fans of all clubs new-found hope, no matter what their aspirations might be. For Manchester United, this season, it could represent the start of title number 20.
It’s been a busy week for Manchester United. Both Angelo Henriquez, a young Chilean forward, and Robin Van Persie, former Arsenal captain and last season’s top scorer in the Premier League, have completed medicals and agreed terms. The club has announced yet another sponsor, and have been launched on the New York Stock Exchange. Earlier in the off-season, United secured their first two signings in Shinji Kagawa and teenager Nick Powell, meaning it has been a very busy off-season for the Red half of Manchester, in stark contrast to some of United’s more recent off seasons.
United finished second on mere goal difference to cross-town rivals Manchester City last season, but they will have their sights firmly set on grappling the title back from their neighbors, and have proven their ambitions with significant strengthening in the off-season. Ironically, they will kick off their campaign this time around against Everton, who arguably wrecked United’s title ambitions last season when they came back from 4-2 down to snatch a 4-4 draw from a match that United simply had to win.
It was not the first time Everton had snatched points from United in such dramatic style, and they managed a similar result early in 2010/11 at Goodison Park when they stormed back in stoppage time to overturn a 3-0 deficit, another indication that no matter how much strengthening United have done over the off-season, they will not be given an easy ride by the blue half of Merseyside.
David Moyes has been busy planning his next set of miracles, as he plans to take Everton above and beyond their 7th placed finish last season. He will be without Everton legend and Socceroo Tim Cahill, a player who has come to represent everything good about Moyes’ Everton’s side, and he has also lost Jack Rodwell to Manchester City, but he will be delighted to have retained the services of Fellaini and Baines, who were both linked with big money moves elsewhere. Both players will be of pivotal importance over the course of the season, as will impressive forward Jelavic and new signing Steven Naismith, a former teammate of Jelavic’s in his time at Rangers.
The Everton manager has a full complement of players to pick from, as he revealed at his press conference on Friday, declaring Fellaini, who had a cloud of doubt over his participation in the season opener, fit to play:
“I think we’re pretty good. We had a few worries in pre-season, Marouane Fellaini’s had an injury, Phil Jagielka’s had a bit of an injury. So we’ve had to manage them but I would expect them all to be ok.”
Sir Alex Ferguson has a number of injury problems to contend with, particularly in defence. Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are all unavailable with various injuries, but United are delighted to have Nemanja Vidic fit for the upcoming season, after his season ended early last time around after suffering a serious knee injury last time around. News today has suggested that Rio Ferdinand has been injured in training and could miss up to two months, though no official confirmation has been made about these claims.
Tom Cleverley and Anderson are also back after suffering injury hampered season’s last time around, and both seem in good shape after getting plenty of game time over the pre-season. Cleverley impressed in Great Britain’s Olympics campaign, and then again in England’s recent friendly against Italy, but he only played one game with his United teammates over the pre-season.
With no injuries to any of United’s impressive selection of forwards and wingers, Sir Alex will certainly have a headache selecting his first side for the new season, as he attempts to sandwich as many names as possible from a selection that includes players like Wayne Rooney, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Javier Hernandez, Danny Welbeck, Dimitar Berbatov and new boys Robin Van Persie and Shinji Kagawa into his lineup.
When asked what he thought of the club’s options up front, Sir Alex said:
“But what gives us even more strength is the different combinations I have now. If you go back to the ’99 season, I had [Andy] Cole and [Dwight] Yorke and also Teddy [Sheringham] and Ole Gunnar [Solskjaer] – I had the four best strikers in Europe. Now I’ve got Wayne, Robin, Danny Welbeck, Chicharito, [Shinji] Kagawa – it’s a fantastic collection of players and hopefully I can pick the right combinations!
“It’s great to have a player of van Persie’s quality coming into our squad. I’m really pleased.”
It’s great to be back writing these previews for the site, if only because it means that the start of the season is well within reach.
We have to wait a little longer than most to see our team in proper action once more, but with so much to look forward too, the wait will be worth it. One thing I am not enjoying about writing this right now is having to predict a line up from the amazing selection of players United boast this season. The signings of Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie have added an immense amount of depth and potential for tactical variation this season, and it is going to be very interesting to see just how United shape up, not only on Monday night but throughout the entirety of the season.
I am of the belief that United will, or at least should, be a little more tactically versatile this season. I think we saw the beginnings of that last season with Wayne Rooney dropping deeper and deeper to operate in the hole with a more direct option just ahead. The introduction of Kagawa brings in a player who is much more natural in such a role, and before the introduction of Van Persie, I thought this might mean that Rooney would revert to the sort of goal poacher role he occupied in 2009/10.
Van Persie’s introduction changes things, and given the supposed injury suffered by Rio Ferdinand, I think Kagawa might be asked to play in a deeper role alongside Tom Cleverley, with Michael Carrick dropping into the heart of defence alongside Nemanja Vidic. This is not Kagawa’s greatest position, but it is a role he can play. Paul Scholes or indeed Anderson are also in contention given their pre-season form.
If the friendlies, particularly the latter ones, are anything to go by, I think we can expect the three behind the forward in this shape to be relatively free roaming. Nani likes to drift in, and I think with a player like Kagawa in the team we can see more of that, as Kagawa can work just as adeptly from the left as from the middle. Valencia offers a more traditional winger but even he has the potential to cut in and cause some more direct danger to the opposition’s goal. With Kagawa possibly set to play a little deeper, and Sir Alex keen to throw Van Persie into the mix, Rooney might start this game in the hole with Van Persie the furthest forward in what would be his debut for his new club.
Behind the more advanced midfielders, Shinji Kagawa and Tom Cleverley offer a potentially exciting partnership. Cleverley, as shown in the most recent round of international friendlies, in which he performed brilliantly against EURO runners up Italy, looks set for a very big season, and if he can steer clear of injuries, he could very well establish himself as a key player in the Manchester United set up.
At the back, Rafael should start at right back, having been recently given the number 2 jersey, and playing in all of Brazil’s game in their run to a silver medal at the London 2012 games. Rafael had something of a mixed tournament, he scored in the opening game, but was very poor in the final, a 1-0 loss to Mexico, which earned him the ire of the Brazilian football federation, who went as far to remarkably single out Rafael after the final for his role in the defeat.
At the heart of defence Michael Carrick will probably be asked to join forces with Nemanja Vidic, whilst Patrice Evra, as usual, should occupy the left back berth.
That leaves a whole lot of game changing talent on the bench, should this line up prediction prove true (I doubt it), but what is clear here is just how good this United squad is as far as depth in quality is concerned all over the pitch. The truth is, you could pick three or four different line ups from the players available and be confident that they could get a result.
Of course, nothing is so simple when your opponents are Everton, and a trip to Goodison Park will be a tough one for United to contend with. Players of the calibre of Fellaini, Jelvaic and Baines all have the potential to cause damage to any side, as they proved at Old Trafford last season, and United will have to be at their best to get a result on the day.
United took a scrappy 1-0 win, courtesy of a typical Javier Hernandez goal, last time around, and you’d be hard pressed to find a United fan anywhere that wouldn’t take the same this time.
Everton – 0
Manchester United – 2
For more pre-game content, be sure to check out our interview with FFDU’s Lee Sutherland, an avid Everton fan, HERE. You can also read Sean Peter-Budge’s thoughts ahead of the new season, and who will shine, HERE.