New season, new hope; and Sir Alex Ferguson has created more than a little this summer with a string of exciting, attacking purchases to bolster Manchester United’s squad. Whether the Reds soft midfield underbelly is once again exposed will be determined over the next nine months, although tThe campaign could hardly begin with a tougher fixture as Fergsuon’s men visit Everton at Goodison Park on the opening
weekend Monday night of the season. New acquisitions Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie are set to make their United debuts, with the Reds chasing a 20th league title this season.
Three months on from the dramatic, and for United supporters everywhere traumatic, end to the Premier League season, with Manchester City snatching the title on goal difference deep into injury time, Ferguson has promised a response. The “mark of true champions,” says the 70-year-old Scot is the ability to respond. Indeed, the United manager has done his bit, revitalising the Reds’ attacking options with van Persie and Kagawa, and promising that “never again” will City beat United to the title on goal difference.
It is a call to arms that nobody uses to more effect that Ferguson, who has pushed his players to overcome a summer of disappointment by winning back the Premier League title next May.
“What happened takes some getting over, it’s not easy,” admits midfielder Michael Carrick.
“It was a huge blow, the way it happened. Nobody could have predicted that and we never thought it was going to happen. But we have to get over it now. We’ve had setbacks in the past and we have to move on. That’s the nature of the club and the manager. He’ll be driving us forward to achieve something this season.
“As a club we do tend to bounce back. If we have a defeat or setback we tend to come back stronger. We can’t forget how close we were. It wasn’t a disaster in terms of how the season went because we had a good season. We’ll bounce back. We’re strong this year and we’re hungry, not that we wouldn’t have been hungry anyway. It will be a good championship.”
After a trophy-less season last time out, few supporters will countenance anything other than a “good season” that contains both silverware, and exciting performances. Both were in short supply at times last season.
Yet, while Ferguson has recruited new attacking players, the Scot has been more circumspect elsewhere, with Crewe Alexandra midfielder Nick Powell likely to spend much of the season with United’s Under-21 side, and Dutchman Alexander Büttner brought in as cover for Patrice Evra at left-back.
The lack of new options in central midfield will be tested once again at Goodison, especially with Rio Ferdinand reportedly joining Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans on the treatment table. Midfielder Michael Carrick will deputise in defence, with Tom Cleverley joining 38-year-old Paul Scholes in the centre of the park. Brazilian Anderson is fit, for once some may add, but is likely to start on the bench.
Meanwhile, Everton manager David Moyes has his own midfield problems to solve after selling Jack Rodwell and Tim Cahill this summer, while Darron Gibson and Marouanne Fellaini each face late fitness tests ahead of the Monday night kick-off. Steven Pienaar has rejoined from Tottenham Hotspur, while striking recruit Steven Naismith is set for a club debut.
Still, United can expect nothing other than a thorough test at Goodison after a summer that included plenty of long-haul travel, but previous little football of a high quality.
“Being away in your first game is always tough so we’ll have to be up for it,” said Welshman Ryan Giggs ahead of what could be his final season for the club.
“We’ve had a decent record there over the years – they’re always good games which can be pretty quick and quite feisty which adds to the atmosphere. David Moyes’ teams always work hard and you know you’re in for a battle and that you’ll have to work harder than them to win.
“We can talk about the quality players we’ve got in our squad but ultimately you need to work hard and make sure you start the season off well. It’s certainly a good test to begin with and everyone is looking forward to it. The manager likes to lay down his ambitions for the season and look in the players’ eyes to see if they’re ready for the challenge and we are. It was a long summer and we can’t wait to get going and put things right this time.”
With title rivals City and Chelsea both winning at the weekend Ferguson’s side is already playing catch-up in the Premier League, although there will be no panic at Old Trafford should the Reds not come away with all three points.
Yet, there will also be desire for a modicum of revenge after Everton’s dramatic 4-4 draw with United in Manchester last April. It proved to be a decisive result in the Premier League. Ferguson will want no repeat of the lax defending his men demonstrated that day.
Everton v Manchester United – Premier League, Goodison Park – Monday 20 August 2012, 8pm
Everton (4-4-2): Howard; Neville, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Osman, Gibson, Fellaini, Pienaar; Naismith, Jelavic. Subs from: Mucha, Hibbert, Distin, Gueye, Barkley, Vellios, Duffy, Anichebe, Francisco, McAleny, Coleman
United (4-2-3-1): De Gea; Rafael, Carrick, Vidic, Evra; Cleverley, Scholes; Nani, Rooney, Kagawa; Van Persie. Subs from: Lindegaard, Powell, Valencia, Giggs, Young, Welbeck, Berbatov, Macheda, Hernández
Referee: A Marriner
Assistants: S Ledger, M McDonough
Fourth Official: A Taylor
Last 10: United – 5 | Everton – 2 | Draw – 3
Overall: United – 81 | Everton – 64 | Draw – 42