Before I start it is prudent to point out that I’m writing this blog without knowing the full extent of the respective squads that will be lining up when the season kicks off this Saturday. They say a week is a long time in politics but the same can be said for football. One needs only look to the recent on – off – on again -off again Robin Van Persie and Lucas Moura sagas that have dominated Manchester United’s pre-season. With the current ownership I’m never convinced they’re here until I see them on the pitch in front of me.
I’m a realist when it comes to making predictions of this nature. No one can predict the toll a season will take on a squad, or how a certain game can alter the entire complexion of a team’s performance. So please enjoy my musings but also take them with the required pinch of salt.
It really is very close to call but I think the onus is on Manchester City to prove that they can repeat last season’s success. I’m very surprised that Roberto Mancini has, thus far, declined to add to his championship winning side (ed note: except for Jack Rodwell). Whilst they were impervious in the league, particularly at home, they floundered in Europe and one would think that they should have built further. However, Mancini may feel that he has a very settled side and buying big and often doesn’t always bring you silerware, as Jose Mourinho’s star-laden Chelsea found out in 2007. Mancini may have this in the back of his mind but the more likely situation is that the owners are growing concerned over the looming Financial Fair Play rules. The cynic in me is convinced they will be unenforceable but the prudent big spenders will want to hedge their bets for the moment before splashing out again.
United have it all to prove after practically throwing away the title in the closing matches at the end of last season. It is a painful memory to erase, particularly the lost lead at home to Everton and then the abject surrender at Eastlands that put the destiny of the league back in City’s hands. United have not yet added any big name signings but the creative injection that Shinji Kagawa brings could help claw back the points that were lost last season to Blackburn, Newcastle and Everton at home. The real concern for United, as it has been since the departure of Roy Keane, is the centre midfield.
Conventional wisdom in football tells you that matches are won and lost in the centre of the park. United have confounded this perceived logic with every trophy they have won since 2005, using a midfield many reds would have swapped with their rivals. The situation in this area became so desperate last season that the retired Paul Scholes was pressed into action from January onwards. Despite the evident lack of funds at Old Trafford a lot of money has been dished out since Keane’s departure without the required player(s) coming in. Time will tell if United can once again prove the midfield purists wrong.
United will benefit from the return of Captain Nemanja Vidic however I think the main drive will come from Alex Ferguson. He will have been seething at the way United lost it last season and I suspect he won’t want to hand over the reins at Old Trafford with his team playing second fiddle to the noisy neighbours. He has stated that United will be concentrating on the League next season although I suspect that is a tactile way of saying that United aren’t good enough to compete with the best in Europe. I concur.
The title winner should come from Manchester. But from the rest of the league, Chelsea probably have the best chance to upset the form book. It seems ludicrous to write off the European Champions but I’m yet to be convinced by Roberto Di Matteo’s managerial credentials. A lot will depend on the new signings and a potentially resurgent Fernando Torres but Chelsea may find the void left by Didier Drogba too big to fill.
Arsenal’s steadfast refusal to spend any serious money on players who were alive last time Liverpool won the League will undoubtedly prove to be their undoing again. Arsene Wenger prides himself on his ability to find certain types of players and with his attacking options he’s gets it right. The defence remains shaky and for that reason I can’t see them maintaining a serious challenge.
For my top four I’ve gone for:
The beauty (and curse) of the internet is that in 10 months time we could look back on this and see how incredibly wrong I was or marvel at my genius in guessing a winner from a group of only 2-3 serious contenders. I hope for a United win and I certainly never want to witness the scenes I did in Sunderland last May, so in that sense I hope Ferguson and United can give all the ‘fake’ fans like me a season to remember.