Manchester United – The Stars

Yesterday we looked at Manchester United’s old guard – the players that will have to be replaced in the next 2 seasons.

Today we look at the 5 players that will form the core of Manchester United’s team this season – 5 players (or 6, if we sign someone decent) on whom our season will depend on more than anyone else and who will be most instrumental in shaping United’s future.

Wayne Rooney

Tipped for Manchester United’s (and England’s captaincy), Wayne Rooney is simply the club’s best player on the pitch and our most important player as well. It’s not impossible to win without Rooney, but his presence adds that extra spark and drive into our game.

Rooney had a good season last year but he will need to step it up a couple of notches and turn into the 30-goal striker Manchester United so badly need. As far as his play is concerned, he will be the one to benefit the most from the return of Scholes, the purchase of Carrick and, while I consider this to be near-blasphemy, the sale of Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Saha (and Solskjaer) playing alongside Rooney will allow him to push up forward and with Scholes and Carrick constantly creating chances, the stage could be set for Wayne Rooney to finally fulfill his talent, at least at club level. It is absolutely scary what this kid is capable of in football (and equally disturbing that he could be a heartless, violent, cynical bastard). His recent comments to the media have been remarkably cultured and mature (especially with regards to the Ronaldo issue) which reflects that A) he’s being coached and B) he’s being groomed for a public role.

After Neville goes, could Rooney take the captain’s armband? Before that happens though, there is that small matter of knocking Chelsea off their fkn perch…

Rio Ferdinand

Along with Edwin van der Sar and Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand was United’s best player last season. His ‘lapses’ of concentration have nearly disappeared and he starts this season on the back of an impressive defensive display at the World Cup where he outshone John Terry in all 5 matches.

What will worry Rio is that he turns 28 later this year and this level, he only has 2-3 more years at the top level before he is forced to make way for younger, faster players. The man will need to produce the best season of his life to help Manchester United shut out their rivals in key matches and to lead Manchester United to a long-overdue run in the Champions League.

Michael Carrick

The boy from West Ham (via Tottenham) is crocked and out till September. 14 mil sitting on the doctor’s table is not an ideal start to the season, but Ferguson will be hoping that Carrick will be back for the successive home games against Tottenham and Arsenal in September (9th and 16th respectively). I remember seeing Carrick play back earlier this year and saying – damn, we should buy this player. I’ve not warmed up to Riquelme despite his obvious talent (feels too slow for the Premiership) and am happy that we didn’t move for him and chose to bid for Carrick instead.

Carrick’s a buy for the Champions League and along with Ferdinand (and Saha) should be one of our most important players in that competition. The slower pace of the Champions League will allow him time to control the game and if he can keep creating chances for the 4-5 players in front of him, United should at least get over their troubles of scoring in the Champions League.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Perversely, the booing seems to have done our Portuguese boy a lot of good. He hasn’t endeared himself to the United faithful with his statements of wanting to leave the club, but at least he seems to thrive on negative treatment (from evidence in the World Cup and pre-season friendlies) and with Manchester United short of quality strikers, he will be given a freer role in the midfield and could even be pushed up forward as supporting striker.

Definitely needs to shoulder the goal-scoring AND goal-creating burden for the team. Along with Rooney and Heinze he will be critical to United’s success in the Premiership.

Gabriel Heinze

Absent for most of last season, Heinze’s return to the squad will be important for two reasons – one, he gives us, like Rooney’s presence, an added bit to our game and two, he can keep Silvestre off the playing field :). Heinze was missed sorely in the Premiership and if Manchester United are to mount a serious challenge to Chelsea’s title we need the Argentine fit and on top form for the whole season.

Support Cast

It would seem unfair to not mention the other players in tthe Manchester United squad who are expected to support (and in some cases match) the stars. Here’s a quick listing:

  • Nemanja Vidic: Has quickly adapted to the Premiership and could, along with Rio Ferdinand, form the most formidable central-defence partnership (which could actually be better than the Terry-Gallas pairing).
  • Wes Brown: The England call-up will do him good but at the end of the day, Brown’s immediate responsibility is to back Ferdinand up and eliminate the small mistakes from his game that have held him back from being a permanent partner for Rio in the back four. To see him replaced with Silvestre at times has been an absolute disgrace. He could make the transition to right-back, although whether he has the ability to pull it off is doubtful.
  • Louis Saha: The man expected by Ferguson to pull 20 goals out of a hat next season, Saha will be (I dare say) Manchester United’s go-to man in Europe. Saha’s pace and ability to bring other attacking players into play will benefit United greatly, especially with Carrick in the middle to set up moves. Needs to stay injury-free.
  • Kieran Richardson: Possibly 1-2 seasons away from becoming a real star of the team, Richardson needs to build on his pre-season form. He has shown some promise in taking free-kicks and corners for United in pre-season and will be used quite frequently in the cup competitions.
  • John O’Shea: Phil Neville’s successor as United’s handyman. Another one for the cups as Carrick and possibly another midfielder take up the serious duties in the centre of the pitch. Is disadvantaged to play in a side with such rich defensive talent, and could be another candidate to take over the right-back mantle (albeit temporarily).
  • Alan Smith: Back to a striker, mate? This man needs to fire in some goals (although in the mould of Solskjaer and Saha he is an excellent creator). Will be welcomed back from injury and should play some part in the opening games with Rooney suspended.
  • Ji-sung Park: We’re still hoping that he gains the confidence to take his shots and put them in the back of the net. A solid bench player, adds pace and creativity to the side.
  • Tomasz Kuszczak: A candidate to replace van der Sar in the next couple of years. Will be blooded in the cups, although he could be thrown in a Champions League game or two as well.

Our Next Signing

There are three names being bandied about as United’s next midfielder – Marcos Senna, Mahamadou Diarra and Owen Hargreaves. If I had to pick one, I’d go for Hargreaves, as he will complement Scholes and Carrick and could be United’s best buy since Rooney (that’s counting van der Sar, Vidic and Carrick).

What’s for sure is that all three players would be expected to have a greater impact for United in the Premiership than in the Champions League, although with Hargreaves I’d expect him to be equally effective in Europe as well.

And what if we sign a striker? No sign of Tevez yet, so let’s just focus on getting the midfielder first…

Up Next

A look at the players in the Manchester United squad that are ‘holding us back‘ and should be sold as soon as possible.

This article is Part 3 of our 6-part Manchester United 2006/2007 season preview coverage at Soccerlens.

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