Season 2011/12 preview: The Manchester United way

Often around Old Trafford and amongst the fans, mention is made of ‘the Manchester United way’. A mythical, attacking, never-say-die style of football that is imprinted on the club’s DNA. Spain manager, Vincente del Bosque, referred to it as ‘kamikaze tactics’ after United met Real Madrid more than ten years ago. Others prefer to simply call it entertaining football. Whatever it is, I expect to see plenty of it this season.

Whisper it quietly, but Sir Alex Ferguson is gutted that Edwin Van Der Sar has retired. I have visions of him asking the Dutchman for ‘some more’ like a twisted, Glaswegian Oliver Twist. Both Anders Lindergaard and David de Gea are excellent goalkeepers, but neither is going to be as good as a man who had 140 caps for Holland. De Gea will certainly be given time and support, but the reality is United are likely to concede more this year than last and be shakier at the back.

Ferguson has done two things to counteract this inevitability. Firstly, and rather sensibly, he has strengthened the defence. Chris Smalling’s maiden season was pleasingly solid and having his mate Phil Jones in the same dressing room is good news all round. Particularly since Rio Ferdinand’s performances have taken on the air of cameos of late. The da Silva twins are both exceptional footballers and if I was Patrice Evra I would be worried for my place. Good. When seasoned professionals are competing for places then performances should be good.

The second thing Ferguson has done is lightly sprinkle his squad with no less than seven strikers. Just in case. That roll call includes last season’s top scorer, Dimitar Berbatov, the second top scorer from the year before, Wayne Rooney, and a man with a European Player of the Year award, Michael Owen. That’s not to mention of course the excellent seasons Frederico Macheda and Danny Wellbeck have had out on loan. There are people in red this year that can score goals.

With six wingers of superb calibre knocking around those men up front should receive excellent service too. Nani is starting to look so good Real Madrid might try and break a transfer record to get him, and Ashley Young whips in the kind of crosses that got my granddad excited back in the Jurassic period.

However, amidst all this optimism about United’s strength in depth and delectable attacking options, this is far from a team without flaws. The midfield, whilst zippy and elusive, has lacked a tackling ball winner for several years now and this is a fact opposition managers are aware of. In the Premier League, with its emphasis on fast attacking football, this hasn’t been a fatal flaw for a while but it is still far from an ideal situation.

In having two fairly apparent weaknesses, the goalkeeper and the midfield, United are leaving themselves open to exploitation by tactically mischievous opponents. Matches this year against the likes of Liverpool, or any Italian opposition, could well be frustrating. Fergie knows this all too well and he is right to emphasise the team’s strengths and concentrate on motivating his players.

In short, being a United fan this year is likely to be everything they have come to expect from a Ferguson side. My gut feeling is that they will do well in the league and progress far in Europe. The team will leak goals at the back this year and attempt to score itself out of trouble. Matches similar to the ones against Blackburn and Aston Villa last year are likely to be the norm. Frankly, United fans probably wouldn’t have it any other way, and let’s face it, it should be great to watch.

Follow mark on twitter.com/markjpayne

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  1. Salford slag says:

    United all the way this year will be to easy. Bashed um up yesterday – bring on shitty and we can bash them to.

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