by Teo Teng Kiat
So, we started the new season the same way we ended the last one: with silverware. To top it off, it was won after a stirring come-from-behind win against our “noisy neighbours”, as Sir Alex so politely termed them. Trailing 2-0 at halftime, the lads stunned City with three goals in the second half; fitting that the win was capped off with a traditional, time-honored late winner.
This is not a match report, but more of a sort of preview to the impending new season, which will kick off for us with a trip to West Bromwich Albion. United will hope to improve on last season’s away form, which was admittedly rather wretched, while at the same time making sure that Old Trafford remains the fortress it was.
Three new signings have been made in pre-season: Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David De Gea. During the USA tour, Young has been fielded primarily on the left, and indications are likely that he will stay there throughout this season. Jones has been deployed at rightback in addition to his natural centreback position, but the manager could still use him as a defensive midfielder when necessary. De Gea will likely be installed at the first choice between the sticks, and although he could have done much better for both of City’s goals, he also made a couple of good saves and impressed with his distribution; he will only get better, and there is no need to jump on his back while he is still adjusting to life at United.
The squad have looked good during pre-season, winning all their friendly matches. The tour looks like it has done the players a whole lot of good in terms of fitness and sharpness, which was clearly evident on Saturday, as the team completely outplayed City. The passing was top-notch at times, and it looks like there has been some work on one/two-touch passing on the training ground; at times, United moved the ball so fluidly around, the opponents were never close to it. The perfect example would be the second goal, with Rooney, Cleverley, Welbeck and Nani bamboozling half the City team with a neat passing sequence outside the box, before the Portuguese finished the move off brilliantly by chipping Joe Hart.
Tactics-wise, I would think United will go 4-4-2 for the majority of this season, with Rooney in a free-role where he can drop back and dictate play, while the wingers provide the width as well as cutting in, to vary the play. Playing Smalling at rightback could turn out to be a masterstroke by Sir Alex, as he gave a superb performance, whipping in several dangerous balls, as well as providing a physical presence that is currently lacking in Rafael and Fabio when defending. Anderson also has the chance to assume Scholes’ mantle; while he has looked good so far, he needs to be more consistent in order to grab this opportunity to establish himself as a first-team regular this season.
Meanwhile, Tom Cleverley slotted into central midfield as if he has been playing for United his whole life, and was one of the most impressive performers in the Barcelona friendly as well as against City. While it might be too early to judge him yet, if he carries on this way, then United might not need a new midfielder this season after all. His loan spell at Wigan has done him a world of good, and the same goes for Danny Welbeck too. A season of first-team football at Sunderland has turned him into a much more intelligent player, who knows how to make use of his pace and trickery more effectively. He impressed me a lot during the tour, and will be looking to challenge for a first-team place now.
Even with the retirement of legends Scholes and Van der Sar, as well as the departures of Hargreaves, Obertan, Brown and O’Shea (the latter two were terrific, sometimes under-appreciated servants to the club), the depth in the squad is still good enough. Macheda, Owen, Giggs, Fabio, Valencia, Diouf and Hernandez didn’t feature in the City game, while the manager can also turn to Pogba, Morrison and Norwood in the Reserves, all good young players in their own right. A host of youth players, including last season’s Academy Player of The Year, Ryan Tunnicliffe, as well as Robbie Brady, Sam Johnstone etc have been farmed out on loan, and hopefully they will return as much improved players.
On a personal note, I have been saddled with a rather heavy workload this upcoming semester in school, which starts on Thursday. Thus, I might not be able to produce articles here as often as I would like to, although I am sure Eric will try to chip in his fair share as well. Nevertheless, I will try to be as active as I can, and also to join in at Durty Nelly’s on match days too.
United looked hungry, looked sharp and looked menacing on Saturday, and the rest of the league have every reason to fear us if we keep on playing like this. Beware, opponents; we are in a winning mood, and we will give our all for title number 20.
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