Following their defeat to Chelsea, I read a couple of articles writing off Manchester United’s title hopes. This feels absurdly early to me, so ahead of this weekend’s Premiership matches here are 4 reasons why I reckon Manchester United will be lifting the Premier League title in May 2010.
They’re not playing that well… yet
Odd as it may seem to start with this point, we have to remember that Manchester United are winning matches playing, by their standards, poorly. United’s form contrasts with Chelsea and Arsenal however neither has been able to shake off United who are still holding onto their coat-tails at the top of the league.
There is no doubt that Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow still looms large over Old Trafford; the arrogant, controversial and brilliant Portuguese provided United with a regular source of goals but as this season progresses United will learn to win convincingly without him. Rio Ferdinand’s struggle for fitness and therefore form is also a concern and United will need to get him playing regularly as soon as they can.
Either way the next 3 months will be crucial for all the title hopefuls, The Champions League group stage is coming to an end and the teams focus solely on The Premier League. In the past this is where United hit their most consistent form of the season and reduce the gap between themselves and the league leaders.
The importance of squad men
When the season moves into the final couple of months the title challengers strength in depth is always tested as injuries and loss of form due to tiredness hit squads in earnest. Manchester United have the biggest depth of experienced players in their squad and this will be vital when juggling Champions League, Premiership and FA Cup Matches. Players such as Michael Owen Park Ji-Sung, Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes, Wes Brown and Gary Neville provide United with experienced back up options, which none of the other top four squads have in such abundance.
Arsenal, to their credit, rely on youth but will need all their key players to stay fit if they are to sustain their title challenge. Liverpool’s inexperienced squad has already been called upon this season, as injuries decimated their first XI, and has not been up to the required standard. Chelsea’s strength in depth is mainly in midfield and the full back positions and they may be found wanting if they get injuries to centre backs or centre forwards.
Whatever you think about Sir Alex Ferguson, his desire to win, ability to get the most out of his players and the effect he has on opposition teams is proven. Ferguson is symbolic of Manchester United – his arrogance and passion is taken onto the pitch by his players. The confidence and belief he inspires in his players are going to be crucial as United face the biggest battle to hold onto the title for three years.
Ferguson will relish taking on Ancelotti and a rejuvenated Arsene Wenger, both on the pitch and in the press, as the season progresses. Ferguson’s drive will be, if possible, even greater this year as he aims to complete what he initially set out to do when taking over at United in 1986. His aim was always to make United the dominant force in English football and overtake Liverpool as the most successful domestic club. With both teams on 18 League titles and Liverpool effectively out of the title race Ferguson will push his players to achieve even greater heights this season.
The January transfer window
Arsenal probably won’t strengthen their squad in January, Liverpool probably can’t strengthen due to their finances, Chelsea will strengthen but will likely sign players in January who will join in June. Manchester United, on the other hand, have already have strengthened their squad. The young Serbian attacking midfielder Adam Ljajic joins in January and though he is an exciting talent it is unlikely he will get much game time this season.
What is of more immediate importance is that Ferguson has seemingly run out of patience with Nani. The erratic winger starts rarely for United and when he does is often substituted early in the second half. United have lacked a decent left sided midfielder since Ryan Giggs moved to a more central role and, if they allow Nani to leave, will strengthen this position.
David Silva has been linked with United on more than one occasion and would be an immediate addition to Ferguson’s first team options. Silva, when fit, is a regular in the Spanish national side, is two-footed and can play out wide or up front. He would link up well with Rooney and Berbatov and give United greater attacking impetus.
They go into this weekend’s matches five points off the pace, recently beaten by both Chelsea and Liverpool, without their best centre half and still struggling to compensate for the loss of Ronaldo but Manchester United are best when facing adversity and I believe, come May, the Premier League trophy will be staying at Old Trafford.