Enough has been said already about Manchester United’s supposed problems – how are confidence is shot, how Alex Ferguson is losing it, how we lack depth in the squad and how Liverpool and even Arsenal have better first-teams than us.
I know for a fact that all this is bullshit. Here is a team that ran Chelsea agonisingly close towards the end of last season. No excuses for falling away in the end, but Manchester United are the only team who has been in touching distance of Chelsea in the last two seasons.
And if you had told me that we would have done that with Ryan Giggs and John O’Shea playing in the central midfield (with Darren Fletcher providing backup) I’d have lauged at you and your mother, but that is what happened, and the confidence generated from the squad’s ability to pull together in such times can only help Manchester United this season.
Heinze is back. Scholes is back. Carrick is in the squad (and should be fit for the the early Tottenham and Arsenal home double-header), and Hargreaves is on his way. The midfield is being revamped and the squad is much stronger now than it was last year.
Up front, Rooney should be able to assume Ruud’s mantle, while Saha and Rossi (not to mention Smith and Solskjaer) will provide enough goals to keep us in the hunt across all four competitions. It is comparable, if not better, than our top three rivals: Liverpool (Crouch, Bellamy, Kuyt, Fowler), Arsenal (Henry, Adebayour, Van Persie) and Chelsea (Shevchenko, Drogba, Kalou).
Was Liverpool the best team after October? All that news tells me is that over the period of a season Liverpool don’t have what it takes to keep up the pressure on the league leaders. The onus has been on Liverpool to improve massively, because both Arsenal and Manchester United suffered uncharacteristic blips with injuries and squad changes. This year, we are back to full strength and Arsenal are wiser. It will be harder for Liverpool to hold on to that 3rd spot, let alone inch towards 2nd.
And for all that has been said about Sir Alex Ferguson he is still a good enough manager to lead Manchester United to titles in the next couple of years.
I imagine that there will a certain amount of unease amongst Manchester United fans this season, despite the capture of Carrick and the expected signing of Owen Hargreaves. It has mainly to do with the lack of superstar status in our signings, plus the lack of a second star striker to support Rooney.
There is no “myth” surrounding Carrick and Hargreaves – Gattuso has his reputation, Diarra has had his reputation built (albeit that one is a tad racially profiled) and even Mascherano is a star midfielder. People don’t rate Carrick and Hargreaves at the same level.
Why not? Because we don’t rate Tottenham, and we’ve seen Carrick make mistakes (and who rates an England player who plays in Germany and until this summer wasn’t considered good enough to spit-shine Gerrard’s shoes?). There is no aura built around Manchester United’s summer signings – and on the other hand I’ve had people tell me that Senna would be a great acquisition despite his age and the fact that he has never been an extraordinary midfielder.
It is unfortunate that Ferguson was not able to play Rooney and Ruud together as an effective partnership. Ideally buying a striker would help our cause immeasurably, but we still have a front line that is at par with the other top 3 clubs in the Premiership. Add to this the fact that we have bought smartly to help us do well in the Premiership as well as the Champions League, and the rumblings of a crisis are well and truly unfounded.
Looking Forward / Meaningless Predictions
Best Finish: Premiership Champions / Champions League Semi-finalists
Worst Finish: Third Spot, Champions Leage second round
Players to watch: Carrick, Hargreaves (if he comes), Rossi
Players who will carry us: the usual suspects – Rooney and Ferdinand
Players who will surprise us: Cristiano Ronaldo and Alan Smith – big performances expected from both of them this season.
Next Big Thing: David Jones will make it possible for us to replace Scholes, while Johnny Evans will help us sell Silvestre.
How do you think Manchester United will fare next season? Let me know in the comments below.
This article is Part 6 of our 6-part Manchester United 2006/2007 season preview coverage at Soccerlens.