Manchester United’s season has gotten off to a pretty decent start, but it’s about to kick into overdrive.
The first few weeks of any new season prior to the first international break always has a feeling of a “breaking in” period of sorts. That was a feeling exacerbated this year, after a pre-season that didn’t seem to do the best job of preparing the players for the rigors of a new Premier League campaign. That was extremely evident at Goodison Park in the opening fixture, where a fitter, more disciplined and driven Everton side made rather light work of United, who on the whole looked flat and simply unable to compete with Everton physically.
It got slightly better in the next two games, in which United secured consecutive 3-2 victories against Fulham and then again away to Southampton, courtesy of a stunning hattrick for Robin Van Persie, but they were still performances punctuated by worrying periods of lethargy, and critical defensive errors that on another day could have cost United dearly. All in all, a return of six points from the opening nine represented a good opening period given the abject quality of some of United’s play.
A 4-0 drubbing of Wigan, despite Roberto Martinez’s fickle complaints of favoritism from the referee for United (he certainly didn’t see much wrong with a lack of bookings for Wigan’s incredible persistent fouling), represents the start of the next phase of the campaign for Manchester United and it was a good performance with which to kick it off. United had to be patient in their quest to open the scoring on Saturday, but the game always had a feeling that it would only take on to open the floodgates, and though a lack of goals in the first half was perhaps misinterpreted by some as a poor showing, I felt it was a promising start. That promise was realized in the second half and a four goal win was enough to propel United into second place and hand a nice boost to the goal difference after a lackluster start to the season.
It is set to get much tougher for United however, with the commencement of their UEFA Champions League campaign this week, which they hope will go better than their last one which saw them fail to qualify from a rather easy group. After taking on Galatasaray at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, United will head to Anfield for what could be a particularly feisty contest between the two clubs on Sunday, before another midweek match against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup, which precedes the visit of Tottenham Hotspurs. This will be a typical patter for United over the coming couple of months, and they will need everyone in their squad to navigate this heavy schedule successfully.
That United won so comfortably at the weekend without Wayne Rooney or Antonio Valencia, as well as Shijni Kagawa and, for the most part, Robin Van Persie, will be a massive boost for Sir Alex Ferguson, as it only serves to demonstrate United’s depth in quality. Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez, for instance, might struggle to get much of a look in when everyone is fit and available, but their respective performances against Wigan were priceless in that they showed that they could be depended on when Sir Alex wants to freshen up his big guns. Patrice Evra, Tom Cleverley, Anderson and Ashley Young are also well rested ahead of the busy schedule, after all missed the win over Wigan. United’s first team selection at the weekend was the beginning of Sir Alex’s great balancing act.
Sir Alex has promised his strongest side against Galatasaray in United’s first Champions League fixture of the season, but considering United face a massive game at Anfield on the weekend, what United’s strongest side exactly is, might be open to interpretation. Few manage their squads as exceptionally well as Sir Alex Ferguson, and with a rather dynamic one at his disposal this season, the possibilities, both tactically and in terms of personnel, are more numerous than ever.
This tough run of fixtures will prove the first real test for this season’s squad. Whilst it might be too early to prove season-defining, it will certainly offer an insight into the potential of this United side, as they look to go one better in the Premier League, and several better in the Champions League.