Darren Fletcher, football genius, to take an ‘extended break’ from football

by Teo Teng Kiat

After months of struggling with a mystery virus, the club finally issued an official statement yesterday, declaring that Darren Fletcher would be “taking an extended break from football for health reasons”, due to a chronic inflammatory bowel condition known as ulcerative colitis, which had been plaguing him for some time (full statement on ManUtd.com here).

It has been pretty clear to all supporters during the past few matches that whenever Fletcher has played, he hasn’t looked fully fit, and so this piece of news doesn’t come as a big surprise. It is, however, testament to his determination and sheer will that he has been carrying on to play through the pain barrier, and it is the best option for all parties concerned that he takes this break to fully recuperate from his illness, before coming back to football again. Ultimately, health takes precedence.

As this effectively rules the Scotland captain out for the rest of the season, it comes as a big blow to United, as it leaves the team short on options in central midfield, since Cleverley and Anderson are both out for the foreseeable future. Gibson and Carrick are probably the only true centre midfielders in the squad who are still fit, and the club could very certainly do with the Darren Fletcher of the 2008-’09 season, where the combative midfielder put in scintillating performances week-in and week-out, to the extent that his absence was singled out as a major reason why we lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final that year, after he was ridiculously dismissed against Arsenal in the semi-finals.

Jones has done superbly in the recent matches filling in the middle of the park, but surely he is not a permanent solution, although his partnership with Carrick does liberate the latter to roam forward more in an advanced playmaker role. Giggs, Park and even Rooney can also play there, but again, they are just stop-gap solutions.

Of course, there have been many supporters clamouring for Pogba and Morrison to step in and fill the void, but while both are fantastic talents, I feel that they are still some way short of being able to cope with first-team football. The step up from Reserve football to the Premier League is a steep one, and it is certainly too much to throw them into the fray straight away; but I do think that this presents an opportunity for Sir Alex to start exposing them to more first-team action. The occasional 15-20 minutes through substitute appearances will greatly benefit their development, and I hope to see them included more frequently in the matchday squads over the next few months.

With injuries to other players like Vidic, who has also been ruled out for the rest of the season, as well as Hernandez and Berbatov, there have been calls for the cash to be splashed in the January transfer window. Inevitably, we have been linked with a dozen players, with familiar names like Sneijder cropping up, as well as talk of a loan deal for Juventus’ Milos Krasic surfacing, amongst others.

While the manager has ruled out making any moves during the window, and past history also indicates that the club seldom buys in January, such rumors will continue to persist until the end of the transfer period. I reckon that the club has what it takes to cope with the injury crisis, with Evans, Smalling and Jones all ready to step in to partner Ferdinand, while our current options in midfield should be able to tide us through the next few games against QPR, Wigan (both away), Fulham and Blackburn (both home).

Meanwhile, we at United for United wish Darren Fletcher a speedy recovery from his illness, and hope to see him in a United shirt again soon.

Join in the discussion about Fletcher at the U4U forum here.

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Champions League Preview: Manchester United v FC Oţelul Galaţi

by Teo Teng Kiat

Vidic was sent off the last time the two sides met, although 10-men United still emerged 2-0 victors (image from ManUtd.com)

Champions League action resumes on Thursday morning, 3.45a.m (Singapore time) at Old Trafford, as United look to continue their recovery from the 6-1 mauling in the Manchester derby last weekend.

Coming off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Goodison Park on Saturday, courtesy of a typically opportunistic strike from Javier Hernandez, Oţelul Galaţi should prove to be easier opposition at the Theatre of Dreams, where United will be the overwhelming favorites.

With only five points from the first three matches, the Red Devils’ form have been decidedly patchy in Europe. A good point away to Benfica in the first round was followed by a complacent performance in the next as they spurned a 2-0 lead to eventually salvage a 3-3 draw at home to Basel, before laboring to a 2-0 away victory at the Romanian debutants in Bucharest. Nevertheless, United remain only two points off leaders Benfica, but with Basel only a point further behind in third, maximum points are imperative in this fixture.

Team news:
Tom Cleverley hobbled off during the match against Everton with an ankle problem, although Sir Alex calmed any fears over the injury, declaring it to be “nothing serious, just tightness and tiredness”. Still, the young midfielder is only expected back next week, and so will almost certainly miss out tomorrow.

Two players who will be sitting this match out for sure are Ashley Young and Chris Smalling. The winger has suffered a toe injury that will probably keep him out of a couple of weeks, while his fellow England international has sustained a small fracture in his foot and will be on the sidelines for the next one month.

Meanwhile, Brazilian fullback Rafael has been back in training over the past week, after a dislocated shoulder which required an operation; so is Ireland international Darron Gibson, after a lengthy layoff due to a metatarsal injury. Both won’t be featuring in the game however, in all probability, due to their considerable lack of match fitness.

Injuries aside, the only other player unavailable will be skipper Nemanja Vidic. His return to the backline on Saturday, in which he was a colossus throughout the entire afternoon, indicates the sort of defensive stability that will be sorely missed. The suspension stems from his red card against the same opponents last time out, which was a ludicrous decision for a 50-50 challenge, but United should still have enough to cope in defence.

The manager has indicated that there won’t be too many changes to the line-up, at the most “maybe two or three, but no more”.

Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard could return to stand in goal as he did for the first and third group fixtures, while Ferdinand will surely come in and partner Evans in the centre of defence. The rightback position should be filled by Jones, while Evra retains his place on the left.

Michael Carrick could ostensibly return to the midfield in place of Cleverley, as European games seem much better suited to his style of play. Expect Nani to start too, as the Portuguese winger would add some creativity to the attack, while Valencia should be on the opposite flank.

Upfront, the trio of Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck look set to continue, although there might be a case for Berbatov to replace any of them, given his impressive performance against Aldershot in midweek.

The Romanians will be expected to set out their stall to stifle United, as they did in the previous encounter. There are arguably no clear star individuals in their squad, but their strong team ethic and good organization restricted the amount of chances United had. That said, their inexperience was evident for the two penalties conceded, and United will look to exploit any such weaknesses and press hard from the start to get an early goal and make things easier.

This should be a straightforward victory against spirited but ultimately inferior opposition, as long as United do not get complacent, as they did against Basel. In the words of the boss, “we’re at home and I expect us to win and, if we do that, it’s in our hands when we play Benfica at home”.

The players who are called upon need to do a professional job and secure three points which will be essential if we want to win the group, and avoid the likes of Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Bayern, Barcelona and other big teams in the next round.

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Post-match: Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City

by Teo Teng Kiat

David Silva, who tormented United all-game long, scores City's fifth (image from ManUtd.com)

Scorers: Fletcher, 81′; Balotelli, 22′, 60′, Aguero 69′, Dzeko 89′, 90′, Silva 90′

It was, as the boss put it, “our worst-ever day”. The noisy neighbours from across town came to Old Trafford and proceeded to utterly embarrass United in front of a packed stadium, running out 6-1 victors and ensuring that this would be a result etched in the memory of their supporters for life.

The lineup United put out looked solid enough, while City showed that they were a different proposition from last season as they came out to attack at the home of their fiercest rivals. What looked set to follow was an intriguing clash between two sides jostling for early supremacy; what resulted, however, was a lop-sided contest.

For the first fifteen to twenty minutes, United looked in complete control, as they had the majority of possession. Tellingly though, there was hardly a single shot. The lack of creativity in midfield meant that whenever the ball was moved into the final third, the attacks invariably broke down against City’s solid defence. United were ruthlessly punished when Silva found space in midfield, slid a lovely ball into the box for Milner, whose cutback was calmly sidefooted into the bottom corner by Balotelli, a shot so precise that De Gea had no chance whatsoever of saving it.

The same could be said for the rest of City’s goals. United had looked to dust themselves and come out fighting in the second half, after going into the interval a goal down. Whatever plans they had were put paid to within two minutes of the restart, as Jonny Evans hauled down Balotelli when the Italian striker was clean through. The red card was a turning point, as was Fergie’s decision to stick with three defenders instead of tightening up.

The momentum was firmly back in City’s favor, and what followed was awful to watch, apart from a brief flurry of attacks from United. Silva turned on a dime in the cross to send Milner clear, and the cross was tapped in at the far post by Balotelli again. Aguero joined in the party by converting yet another low cross, this time from Richards, before Fletcher gave the fans some hope by curling home a sublime effort from just outside the area with ten minutes left.

That goal, however, only served to encourage the ten men of United to push further forward. City duly took advantage, as Dzeko turned in a fourth from Lescott’s pass back following a corner. Silva added a fifth with a well-deserved goal, a just reward for an outstanding performance. He then volleyed an exquisite first-time pass from inside his own half to send Dzeko away for the sixth and final nail in United’s coffin.

By then, I was already shell-shocked in disbelief at the happenings transpiring in front of me on the screen. Make no mistake, City deserved the win, because we never turned up. Mancini’s men came with a plan, and they executed it superbly. Nani and Young were fully neutralized by Richards and Clichy, which meant that the wing-play we were counting on never materialised. Anderson had an abject game in the centre of the park, huffing and puffing to no effect, while Fletcher was quite anonymous apart from the goal.

More than ever, the lack of a balanced midfield partnership was telling. Where yesterday’s pairing lacked creativity, the earlier ones seemed to expose the defence too often. In contrast, City’s trio of Toure, Milner and Silva looked like the perfect foil for each other. The defence was in shambles, as the three men could not deal with the waves of City attacks coming at then. No one was picking up both crosser and scorer, and poor De Gea could only look on in despair as his team crumbled in front of him.

What rankled more than the scoreline, however, was the lack of fight. The players just seemed to totally give up towards the end, when they conceded three in ten minutes. Dzeko and Lescott could have passed the ball ten times between them and still would have had time to score the fourth. The only ones who emerged with any sort of credit were Rooney, who screamed at Ferdinand after the fifth and constantly dropped deep to get the ball, and Welbeck, who put in a real shift upfront, albeit ineffectively, as well as Smalling and De Gea. The belief and never-say-die attitude, for so long the hallmarks of this great club, were bereft, and I’d say that was what was most disappointing about the performance.

Truth be told, a defeat had been coming. The team had been lucky to scrape through the past few games with sub-par displays, and yesterday, a genuine title contender took us apart with a ruthless display. Our sparkling, effervescent early-season form is gone now. This mauling has to serve as a wake-up call to the players, and perhaps even to Sir Alex himself. Meanwhile, City are without doubt a force to be reckoned with now.

I do not doubt for a second that we will respond and come back from this. The manager will put things right, but it has to be sooner rather than later. The hurt has to serve as motivation to bounce back, and ultimately in the grand scheme of things, it was three (very painful) points dropped. There are still 29 more games to be played; league titles are only handed out in May. Come on, you Red Devils.

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Post-match: Liverpool 1-1 Manchester United

by Teo Teng Kiat

Hernandez salvages a point for United (image from ManUtd.com)

Scorers: Gerrard 68′; Hernandez 80′

A pulsating encounter between England’s two most successful clubs ended with the spoils being shared on a sunny afternoon, as a late equaliser from Javier Hernandez cancelled out Steven Gerrard’s opening goal for Liverpool, as Manchester United ended a run of three straight away defeats at Anfield.

United had lined up with a rather defensively-minded team, as Phil Jones stepped into midfield alongside the returning Darren Fletcher, as Park and Young filled the slots on the side of a midfield quartet. Giggs was given the licence to roam behind Danny Welbeck, with the result being a strong bench that contained Nani, Rooney, Anderson and Hernandez, amongst others. The depth United had was further emphasized by the omission of Valencia and Berbatov from the matchday squad altogether.

Meanwhile, Liverpool welcomed the return of their inspirational skipper Steven Gerrard back to the starting line-up, as the midfielder looked to make an impact after being out injured for the better part of the last six month. Upfront, Luis Suarez, the chief tormentor in United’s 1-3 defeat during the corresponding fixture last season, was supported by the workhorse Dirk Kuyt.

Perhaps taking confidence from United’s defensive set-up, the home side pressed hard from the start of the game. Downing and Enrique took every opportunity they could to send in crosses from the left, but chances were few and far between for both sides.

A few efforts from range went wide, with Ferdinand handling Suarez well, and his counterparts in the Pool defence doing likewise to Welbeck. The best chance for the Uruguayan hitman came when a shot was deflected to his feet and he turned Evans inside the box, only to send a left-footed shot straight against De Gea. The striker should have done better, as should have Jones, when earlier on, he headed a sumptuous cross from Evra into the side-netting at the far post.

After a rather even first half, the second half got underway with United having the better of the earlier exchanges. Young sent a low effort from distance skidding wide, while his freekick from 25 yards out had Reina scrambling to take control of the loose ball.

Liverpool though, started to get back into the game, and a goal arrived under some contentious circumstances. Adam rode a couple of challenged and hurtled towards the United goal before Ferdinand looked to have brought him down just outside the area. Replays showed though that the United centreback only had the slightest contact with the midfielder, who went down looking like he was shot. Gerrard’s subsequent low freekick crept in the at near post, after Giggs inexplicably opened up a gap in the wall by moving away from his position.

Sir Alex responded by bringing on the cavalry. Nani and Rooney were sent off, before Hernandez joined them as well. There were penalty shouts for each team too, but it was really more of a ball-to-hand case for both Enrique and Evans. United’s equaliser arrived with ten minutes left to play. Nani’s superb inswinging corner was flicked on by Welbeck at the near post, and Hernandez broke free of Skrtel to head home just in front of the goal, with his first touch since coming on.

The last ten minutes were largely Liverpool all the way, as they took advantage of the openness of United’s formation. First Kuyt, then Henderson, drew great stops from De Gea, as the Spanish custodian kept the score level. Two corners from the home side created pandemonium in the box as United desperately hung on, with Rooney denying Suarez a certain winner as the determinedly headed the ball away just as if the Pool striker looked to have a free header a metre away from goal. Henderson then glanced a Downing cross over when he really should have scored, and with that went Pool’s chance of winning the game as the final whistle came soon after.

The immediate feeling after the game was that we had come out of this with a very good point. Although it was true that Liverpool didn’t create too many chances apart from their late second-half flurry, it was clear that United put in a sub-par performance. When your goalkeeper and centreback are candidates for the man-of-the-match award, it is a rather good indication of which side had the better of the game.

I thought it was a big ask for Jones to step into the midfield in such a big game, but credit to the lad, he did reasonably well. The problem with the midfield was that it lacked creativity, and it certainly didn’t help that Giggs and Young didn’t put in good performances. The Welshman was stifled by the midfield trio of Adam, Lucas and Gerrard, leaving Welbeck isolated upfront, while Martin Kelly coped admirably with Young on the left. Park was his usual industrious self, but the difference was clear when Nani came on, as the crosses started to come in from the left.

Liverpool had a field day raining in balls from their left wing, and with Enrique and Downing both very well capable of good deliveries, it was a constant source of danger for us throughout the game. This also had the effect of restricting Smalling’s forays forward, meaning both sides of our attack were compromised.

Ferdinand though, showed his class at the back. Coming back from injury, he slotted in impeccably, and worked superbly with Jonny Evans, who had a good game himself. Tasked with marshalling Luis Suarez, the classy centreback gave his tricky opponent no change at all, and was imperious throughout the whole 90 minutes. David De Gea, meanwhile, continued to prove his doubters wrong; apart from those good saves, he also exuded confidence and authority when coming for the many high balls and crosses put in by the Pool players and dealt with them well, which should further boost his morale.

While it would seem baffling at first to bench so many key players, perhaps Fergie’s decision could be explained by the fact that there is a testing trip away to Romania in the Champions League coming up, as well as the fact that Nani and Hernandez tasted quite a bit of action for their respective countries over the weekend. However, I still think Rooney would have been mentally strong enough to start the match despite the media attention over his red card for England and match-fixing allegations about his father. He worked well with Welbeck when paired together, so perhaps this gamble didn’t pay off. It was also curious to note the absence of Berbatov, and no reason of any sort has been given for this.

Liverpool, to be fair, gave us a hard time, and played some good football at times. While United will still be seething over Adam’s dive that led to the freekick, we have to thank Hernandez for his opportunistic header which helped us to gain a point. His movement as the ball came in was top-drawer, heading into the box and then turning to run a full circle back in as Skrtel was lost, to make space for himself to score.

The performance was not pleasing, but the tenacity of the players meant that we salvaged a point at a difficult ground to go to. What is certain is that there needs to be improvement next weekend, where United clash with City in a top-of-the-table Manchester derby, which should prove to be an intriguing and intense match.

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Match Preview: Manchester United vs Bolton Wanderers

Our Newsblog is pleased to welcome our newest writer Tong Hon Cheong on board. In his first contribution, he presents in his own disarmingly informal and tongue-in-cheek style his assessment of Manchester United’s upcoming game against Bolton this weekend.

Anderson Anderson of Manchester United battles with Kevin Davies and Ricardo Gardner of Bolton during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford on October 17, 2009 in Manchester, England.

Last 6 games
Manchester United: WWWWWW (OH YEAH.)
Bolton Wanderers: LWLWWL

Top of the table Manchester United take on 10th-placed Bolton Wanderers away at the Reebok Stadium this weekend (11 September: late Sunday night/ early Monday morning, 00:30, and I’ll be coming to Durty Nelly’s after my combat shoot, wish me luck).

Between the sticks

I was thrilled to see De Gea (I think he looks like Dr. Seuss, here’s a picture of Dr. Seuss: http://goo.gl/aEQB5) save Van Persie’s penalty that fortnight ago, he really needed that, considering all the criticism that has been floating around about his inability to handle crosses and his lack of authority in the box. Some of his flaws did show during the match, but I think it did wonders for his confidence and he should go into this fixture a more assured pair of hands than what we’ve been seeing so far. I don’t think we’ve any reason to fear a Dudek or Bosnich just yet. YET.

Back Four

With Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Rafael all out for at least the next month, the starting back four are looking to be young faces again as Phil Jones (CB), Chris Evans (CB) and Chris Smalling (RB) step up to the plate, with Patrice Evra (LB) adding experience to this defense. Personally, I love what this defense is doing; running at opponents with the ball, not being afraid to play around with it. Ferdinand, Vidic, Rafael and Fabio are all going to be hard pressed to fight their way up the pecking order. It used to be just Evra running up on his own, because Neville was lacking in pace (not that I don’t like the man), and it wasn’t till recently with the induction of Rafael and Fabio about two seasons back, along with Smalling this year that we start to see our wing backs more involved in the build up play. It really completes and complements United’s robust and attacking style of play thus far in the season, although granted my ‘thus far’ is just three games, but hey, don’t be hatin’.

Yet I must contradict myself by saying that it is also because they are so robust in their offensive play that they are prone to sloppiness, as seen in the Arsenal win. Those two goals probably could have been avoided with a little more discipline, but I’m just nitpicking.

Centre of the park

Midfield-wise, Ashley Young (LM) is a shoo-in to play, judging from his midweek goal against Wales on international duty, and he’ll be looking to continue that hot scoring form, together with Nani (RM), with whom he shares a combined total of 3 goals and 4 assists in 3 games, which is just fantastic for the Devils (it’s like 7 goals if you think about it). Tom Cleverley (CM) should be starting as well, alongside Anderson (CM) to complete the midfield menace.

I was really impressed by Cleverley while watching the win against Arsenal, he was really demanding the ball like a boss, and made good use of it too. I’m excited to see how the season will pan out for him, and I think it will be really great for him if he continues like that, he might even measure up to Scholes. Anderson is fleshing out as well, after backbenching the past three seasons and sucking up all the negative press about his ability. Sir Alex is looking to build the new Fledglings around him, and it seems like he’s ready to do so now, after a good showing so far. Young has burst off the starting blocks, and there’s no reason for me to say he can’t go the distance, and Nani just needs to brush up on his finishing and it’s all good here.

I feel the fight for the midfield places will be the fiercest this season, because while we’ve got all these younglings running amok, there are players like Park Ji-Sung, Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Darron Gibson, Antonio Valencia and Paul Pogba (HOW IS HE A 55 IN FIFA12?!) just raring to go. Barring an injury crisis (oh I’ve jinxed it haven’t I), this season will be an exciting one, both on the pitch and the bench.

In the net

Up front, we have Wayne Rooney (RS) and the man who makes him better, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez (LS), who comes back from his pre-season concussion with a goal to boot in the 1-1 draw against Poland last week. Rooney also bagged a brace in England’s 3-0 win against Bulgaria.

Welbeck will be nursing that hamstring, while Owen, Berbatov, Diouf and Macheda will just have to wait their turn to impress Sir Alex.

(What, too short? Is there really anything to say here?!)

In conclusion

I’m signing off here because there’s nothing much else left to say; United’s gonna win, so chuck the rest into the bin. I’m looking at at least a 2-0 win before I book in Monday morning. Peace out.

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Post-match: Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2

by Teo Teng Kiat

An emphatic win

Scorers: Welbeck 22′, Young 28′, 90′, Rooney 41′, 62′, 84′, Nani 67′, Park 70′; Walcott 45′, Van Persie 74′

United tore apart an inexperienced Arsenal side decimated by injuries and suspensions in a ruthless display, hitting eight goals to pile on the misery for our London rivals in their worst ever defeat against us.

Sir Alex kept faith with the same starting XI which outclassed Spurs 3-0 on Tuesday, while injuries to Vermaelen, Gibbs, Sagna, Wilshere and suspensions for Frimpong and Song only exacerbated the departures of Fabregas and Nasri for the visitors, as Wenger handed Francis Coquelin a first-team debut and Carl Jenkinson a first league start. Meanwhile, the bench was one that only ardent supporters of the Gunners would have recognized, as youngsters Oguzhan Ozyakup and Giles Sunu joined recent signing Oxlade-Chamberlain alongside Ignasi Miquel and Henri Lansbury.

Old Trafford sensed blood, and United pressed hard from the offset. Midway through the first half, Welbeck took advantage of hesitant marking to slip in between Koscielny and Djourou to nod home a cute Anderson chip and open the scoring. United were in full flow, but Evans’ needless tug on Walcott as he burst into the area handed our opponents a way back into the game.

No matter, however, as De Gea guessed correctly and got down to palm away Van Persie’s weak spotkick to prevent them from leveling. It was great to see the players all rushing over to the Spanish goalkeeper after the save, in a show of support. A minute later, Ashley Young picked up a loose ball outside the area and curled a stunning strike into the top corner for United’s second.

The goals started coming, as Rooney curled in two superb freekicks and a penalty to complete a hat-trick, Nani chipped in a great finish, Park rifled in a low shot and Young hit another sublime curler, to render strikes from Walcott and Van Persie irrelevant. Old Trafford was euphoric; the last time United scored so many was back in 1999.

Truth be told, the inexperience of Arsenal’s players cost them. Old Trafford is no place to come to when half your starting lineup have less than 90 minutes of BPL football between them. It was harsh and unfair to ask so much of these players, who have the potential but not yet gained the temperament for such a high-profile clash. Wenger must shoulder much of the blame for allowing youth to be prioritized over experience in his team-building philosophy over the years, and the losses of Fabregas and Nasri meant it was too much for Van Persie to carry the team, especially with Arshavin and Rosicky in wretched form.

The likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Gibbs and Szczesny will come good, but only if Wenger goes out to buy, the need for which has become painfully apparent now. The Arsenal fans, who were in magnificent voice throughout, certainly deserve better.

Contrast this with the kids in the United side, who although had an overall age younger than the Arsenal lineup, have already had spent a couple of seasons playing first team football: Jones for Blackburn, Smalling at Fulham, Welbeck and Cleverley on loan at Sunderland and Wigan, De Gea being first choice for Atletico.

As Gary Neville said on Sky after the game, United were not at their best in this game; the sloppiness at the back for the two goals conceded needs to be cut out, not least because it will prove costly against better opponents. Evra seems to be slightly on the wane defensively now, having lost a bit of his pace, while Evans still looks shaky at times.

It was a good win, but we should not be carried away with this victory over a depleted Arsenal side shorn of confidence, for there will be tougher games to come. However, the energy shown by this emerging batch of players does promise genuine excitement, and the hope is that United will build on this fine start to the season and fend off the real threat of their rivals for the title.

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And we are off the mark for 2011/12!

by Teo Teng Kiat

Vidic lifts United's 19th Community Shield

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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