What to make of the season ahead? As ever with Manchester United the target is victory on all fronts, although after a campaign in which Sir Alex Ferguson’s men finished trophy-less in 2011/12 there may be more realistic ambitions in the months ahead. Most supporters will settle for bringing back the Premier League trophy to Old Trafford, and regaining some honour in Europe. Whether Ferguson’s squad has the quality and balance to achieve those ambitions is the key question.
Let there be no doubt: last season’s final minute title loss to Manchester City hurt Ferguson and his men, and has left a mood of disappointment in the red half of the city. With a summer to brood on what could have been there has been much talk about a redoubling of efforts in the campaign to come. After all, few can turn failure into a driver for renewal quite like Sir Alex.
Yet, for all the talk of learning something from last season’s campaign it is essentially a red herring. In truth the season ahead is all about United’s depth of quality, not the players’ hunger, and what progress if any that has been made during the summer.
And there has been some qualified progress. After all the season is likely to start with United having signed one of the finer attacking players in the Bundesliga, last season’s Premier League top goalscorer, and an attacking midfielder, in Nick Powell, of undoubted promise.
While Robin van Persie’s apparent capture from Arsenal poses plenty of questions – not least for new Japanese acquisition Shinji Kagawa – Wayne Rooney will be, as ever, central to United’s success or failure this season. van Persie will ease the considerable burden on the Scouser. And while the squad is perhaps over-stocked with strikers and attacking players, ensuring goals shouldn’t be a challenge, the very best players do make the difference in the key games. Another 30-goal plus season from Rooney ensures that Ferguson’s team will be, in the parlance of modern football, ‘there or thereabouts’.
Yet, it is central midfield that Ferguson has once again stubbornly refused to strengthen; a weakness amplified by the Scot’s cowardly tactics against City at Eastlands in April. Michael Carrick had a fine season in 2011/12, and will be central to United’s progress once again, but elsewhere there is a genuine problem. Paul Scholes – majestic after returning to the team in January – cannot be expected to play more than 25 games in all competitions, while Ryan Giggs is largely inconsistent and wasteful. That’s without mentioning either player’s age.
Meanwhile, Anderson is absent far too often with injury, and inconsistent on the rare occasions of fitness. After five years at the club Ferguson’s patience is far greater than that of many supporters. Then there is Tom Cleverley, who has suffered a serious injury in each of his last four seasons, and Darren Fletcher, whose long-term prognosis, despite playing against Aberdeen on Tuesday, is not good.
Much rides on Cleverley, who at 23 is no longer a youngster, and has become a bone fide international after making his England début against Italy in Bern on Wednesday night. The midfielder has very little experience at the highest level after an injury-hit campaign in 2011/12, but if – and it is surely a big ‘if’ – Cleverley remains fit then the Basingstoke-born midfielder may just aid United supporters in dismissing that long-running debate over central midfield.
Ferguson will, of course, still be able to call on much attacking flair. Nani, who continues to deliver on goals and assists, but is infuriating to watch far too often will be an asset as long as the player keeps delivering match-winning performances. Should the output dry up, then Antonio Valenicia’s greater consistency will again come to the fore. Ashley Young, fresh from a dreadful summer with England and a season of diving controversy back at home, still has much to prove.
United should be better defensively though, especially with captain Nemanja Vidić returning. The Serbian will the lend then experience and stability that was so keenly missed during key games of last season’s run-in – assuming that there is no lasting imparement from a serious knee injury.
Meanwhile, Ferguson will hope that Rafael has matured over a summer with Brazil, and that the trio of Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones can stay fit. Rio Ferdinand will likely play a reduced role in the campaign ahead. It is a shame, though, that United has been unable to bring in cover for Patrice Evra, a player whose performances peaked before World Cup 2010 and have never returned to those lofty heights.
In all of this there is a school of thought that says United begins the season in healthy shape, and not only because of new acquisitions, but that Ferguson’s squad can never again suffer the kind of injury crisis that it did at times last year.
Despite this, and Roberto Mancini’s more modest budget this summer, City – champions of England – have earned the right to begin the season as favourites for the Premier League title. Not least because the season ahead will not be defined by matches against the ‘big’ opponents alone. United dropped too many points at Old Trafford last season against mediocre teams. Points lost against Everton and Blackburn Rovers, for example, proved to be just as decisive to the season’s narrative as those dual losses to City.
Perhaps complacency was United’s greatest enemy after all.
There are also far too many questions about United’s team coming into the new season to hold unqualified hope. The Reds’ collapse in the final matches last year, and the total failure in Europe, should have provoked a deeper rethink about the club’s strategy. It hasn’t.
On the cusp of the new season, with a brooding mood in the stands after the Glazer family’s New York IPO, it’s hard to define exactly where the team has improved over the summer except in attacking areas. The fundamental problem with squad balance has not yet been addressed. Ferguson’s refusal to strengthen in midfield is anathema. More than that: it is wilful neglect, and will surely prove a strategic error.
And then there is a dichotomy with Sir Alex that is hard to square. On the one hand Ferguson is the finest manager the game has ever known; a man who has transformed United and brought unprecedented success over 25 years at Old Trafford. On the other, the man is hard to respect.
Ferguson’s unmitigated support for the Glazer family has angered many long-time supporters this summer. It is a relationship that hasn’t simply been passive indifference – Ferguson has made a bed with owners who have sucked more than £500 million out of the club in debt-related costs. Often at fans’ expense.
Worse, this summer Ferguson chose to create a fight with supporters – defining as “real fans” those who agree with his view of the owners. Presumably those who don’t, are not.
It is a summer that leaves fans excited about three attacking acquisitions, but with little faith that the club’s executive management have anything bar personal profit in their sights. After all, £40 million summer investment was flagged to investors during the IPO roadshow in July and August. From here on investors have been promised a more modest budget of £20 million net per annum.
Still, if this is the squad that starts the season against Everton next Monday then it at least offers more attacking options than in the past, where at times Ferguson’s side was worryingly ponderous. Whether the midfield base is strong enough to compete with the very best remains doubtful.
29 thoughts on “Season preview 2012/13”
Who would you bring in to midfield? People can’t even make their mind up over whether we need a creative player or a defensive one. Defensively Carrick is good, and attacking wise, Cleverley will do fine if he can stay fit, my hope for Anderson finally playing at his best hangs by a thread but is there nonetheless, and then there’s Kagawa. I think United will be successful this season, but I think the key to them being a top class side will be whether the central midfielders can remain fit. Also I can’t help but feel our current 4-4-1-1 formation is slightly outdated and leaves the centre forwards isolated. Also the fact there’s only 2 central midfielders naturally lends itself to United being outnumbered in midfield. If we played a 4-2-3-1 where the wingers are in more advanced positions to support the strikers, and slightly narrower to help in the centre of midfield we would be better. Then again I’m no professional so what do I know.
Sammy…..one of the main purposes of this forum is to complain about things and if Fergal cops a bit of curry every now and again he just has to take it on the chin – we all cop stick in life, he’s a big boy and can take it. If following @united rant makes you feel sad and angry just click the “unfollow” button – it’s that simple – remember YOU are in control of your life.
Sorry sam….meant to post to SAMMY….
I am cautiously optimistic. I think European success is a pipe dream for now (unless we got lucky), but EPL glory is I think a real possibility.
A world class CM coming in would increase my optimism, but I think we’ve gotten better with RVP and Kagawa. I reckon we’re still underdogs to Citeh but by a hair…If we can kill off teams like Everton and Wigan we’d be Ok
Might just be start of the season optimism though…
I think a switch to a 433 could cover up lot of deficiencies in our midfield. With the extra man there, we’re much less likely to get overrun as with Scholes/Carrick last year. We’ll likely see the decline and retirement of Giggs/Scholes this season and replacing them with the more mobile Cleverley/Anderson should also help. I don’t think Kagawa will be shunted to the wing – more likely to play as part of a midfield 3 – say Carrick-Clev/Ando-Kagawa – in an Iniesta style role. While Cleverley and Anderson should provide some energy and we certainly won’t be lacking in attacking flair this season, there is no player who can perform Carrick’s role. Giggs should only be trusted in a more attacking role and Scholes lacks the mobility and defensive skill to play there. If Anderson has the tools, he doesn’t know how to use them.
That leaves 6 (maybe 7) players – Nani, Young, Valencia, Rooney, Hernandez, Van Persie, Welbeck, (Berbatov) – to rotate for the front three positions. While the quality of that group is high, Fergie is the king of rotation and it’s difficult to envisage a season without more injuries. The need to give all of these players game time should also ensure our progress further in all of the cup competitions.
Sam – in terms of buying a CM: Modric, Martinez, Allen have all moved already, Song’s likely to go to Barca. All would’ve been appropriate. There are not many left. Think Sahin is going on loan. Only Moutinho, Fellaini and Witsel left as far as I can see. Bruno would be a good cheaper option. The issue with type of player is a little moot – what we’re really crying out for is a quality, reliable CM who can play 40+ games per season. As a team who should challenge for the CL, going into the season with only one player you can count on is madness. It cost us the PL last season too. As it stands, our midfield has one reliable player and we hope the other four can overcome injury, age and inconsistency to put together a respectable season that could be replaced by one good player.
Maybe signing RVP is Fergie’s idea of having one last shot at both the EPL and CL trophies. Giggs, Scholes and possibly Evra and Rio are playing their final year at United and the gaffer must be close to calling it a day as well. This could be the last kick of the can for Fergie.
Still feel 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 is the best use of our personnel. I’d like to see Nani and Valencia given the wide berths to begin with, Rooney behind Van Persie. Carrick and Cleverley/Kagawa starting in midfield. Nevertheless the spectre of injury looms over the squad, while TC impressed in the Olympics I worry whether he’s strong enough to be competitive over a whole season. Strange to say it perhaps, but the form of Carrick this term seems as though it will be crucial to United’s chances of success. If Vidic returns and plays to the same world class level as before, our defence will be more resilient and perhaps we’ll be able to get away with playing a more expansive game.
Interesting article about Cleverly…
If he can stay fit, he’s going to get his chance, because it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting anyone else… and maybe that’s the point… Ferguson has always claimed Cleverly was good… I guess we’ll see.
I have to admit, Tom’s short game is as good as any… he seldom loses the ball. I can only see him getting better this season. I thought Lingard was fantastic in preseason so I hope he gets a good opportunity to show his hand.
I follow @unitedrant on twitter and more often than not read his blogs. Hardly anything United does is considered positive. Glazers this, midfield that, Fergie this e.t.c.
Last year there was talk of ‘we need a Silva type creative midfielder.’We get that, but suddenly we now need a tough-tackling midfielder to protect the middle.
RVP comes in, people complain about it killing chances of Welbeck and W.Keane for the next few years.Wouldn’t that new tough CM be preventing the chances of R.Tunniclife coming up as well?
Support the team. If you think you’re a better manager than SAF then drop a C.V at OT
P.s I am ‘anti-glazer’ as well.
Sammy – would you like to point to the Tweet where I talk about W.Keane or Tunnicliffe? Or in fact any of the other phases you mention? No, right. Perhaps best you stick to Twitter. Bit harder to shoot your mouth off unintelligibly in 140 characters.
If you’ve got a point state it. Otherwise do one you bulb.
Well said,have a big problem with the fact dat we dnt av a replacement for evra only option is now out on loan(fabio)its obvious he’s declined over d yrs.what happens if evra gets injured?? Johnny evans?.remember TC was outstanding @ d begining of the season before his injury prayer is he gets dat form back and ando decides to step up this time around
I agree with what you say, however, how hard is it to put “th” instead of “d” when typing? Gives me a headache trying to read that nonsense
I’ve read a bit here about how people are expecting Kagawa to play “on the wing” like Nani and so Nani is now expendable.
So Kagawa plays on the wing and does what? Curls in crosses? I expected this sort of 442 and tally ho stuff from Redknapp.
It’ll be excruciating to watch Kagawa on the wing. No wonder players with any sense are scared of coming to OT. What kind of winger/striker would want to play in defence or central midfield?
Posted before to the wrong Sam……..one of the main purposes of this forum is to complain about things and if Fergal cops a bit of curry every now and again he just has to take it on the chin – we all cop stick in life, he’s a big boy and can take it. If following @united rant makes you feel sad and angry just click the “unfollow” button – it’s that simple – remember YOU are in control of your life.
This article is just what I keep saying, same problems in midfield and big problems in defence. Who are the fullbacks that will cover for Rafael and Evra? Ferdinand has recurring injury problems and Vidic knee surgery, and once you have problems with your knees, your football career is going downhill. I listened to Arsense Wenger and he is saying that they at Arsenal are laughing all the way to the bank because we just paid 24 million for a 29 year old that has been at Arsenal for 8 years and out of the 8 years that he has been there, he has only had one good season and that was last season when he scored 30 goals. What a joke! Has SAF lost his mind? And what really shocked me was when Wenger told Van Persie to go, I have no plans for you in my team this season. This is the same scenerio that SAF is telling Berbatov after Berbatov was the leading goal scorer. God don’t like ugly. SAF will pay for his mistakes. And if our style of football has not changed from last season, do not look for any trophies this season. I told you before about modern day football. I also told you that Swansea and Arsenal played the best football in the EPL. Swansea manager is now at Liverpool. Young MODERN DAY MANAGERS BRING A NEW STYLE OF FOOTBALL. Look at Tottenham, manager is just 34 years old, Pepe Guardiola 39 years old and the real reason why we are having a hard time attracting world class players is because of the style of football that we play. I told you to go on Facebook and talk to superstars from other big clubs and they will tell you that they are not interested in going to Man. United as long as SAF is still there. They find our football boring.
But we start the season with a great attack force but a very suspect defence and midfield problems still lingering.
// I told you to go on Facebook and talk to superstars from other big clubs and they will tell you that they are not interested in going to Man. United as long as SAF is still there. They find our football boring. //
Like who? Examples. Who did you talk to? I think… I think you’re telling porkies mate…
Herbie Simms = massive delusional ego
Guys on this website to face the facts. It is every players dream to play for Man.United or Real Mardid.
So why do all the superstars had to Real Madrid? And don’t tell me its because of the Glazers. Superstars follow certain managers. If Pepe Guardiola was coming to Man.United, all the superstar players would want to go there. Every player loves his style of football. Once SAF retires, and if we get a manager with a big reputation, you will see a Man.United with a full squad of world class players. Look at PSG, Ancolotti has gone there and now they have a superstar team. But what I’m hearing, we have a new style of football this season, at least I really hope so. Would be great to get a few trophies.
One blessing: with the current squad when playing City at the Etihad Sir AF couldn’t possibly choose a team as defensively-minded as the one he put out last season, could he? And if they score 6 against us again at OT , we could get 7: 13 goal derby-thriller, just imagine!
Don't be shy Mongo… you can say it…
Herbie… stop talking shit!
LOL – brilliant Alf!
Herbie your last post has indeed made you look foolish – care to retract?
Alex song would be the perfect signing
Stop worrying about midfield enforcer folks, it’s old style. The best form of defense is to keep possession and to attack. We’ll have plenty of possession with the likes of Kagawa, Cleverly and Anderson. Rooney & RVP will sublimely convert chance created from all those possession into goals.
mig – not sure it’s just about an enforcer. It’s about control. The amount of times United have failed to exert control in midfield in recent years is considerable… and not just against ‘big’ teams. Mind you, just for the sake of squad balance I still think we could do with a real evil bastard.
Like Nigel De Jong!!? He’s never been mentioned as a possibilty, but isn’t his brutish style something that could supply the evil bastadry we’ve been lacking since Keano in his heyday? He’s going cheap!
De Jong is shit. You could maybe forgive his thuggery if he was a good player, but he isn’t, and he regularly puts in career-jeopardising tackles.