With the 2012-13 English Premier League season on the horizon, Tezini’s crew of soccer experts is here to get you ready for all the cracking finishes, devilish challenges and unforgettable drama. Over the next two weeks, we’ll give each club its proper due in a free-flowing roundtable discussion. We continue with Manchester United.
AJ: I’m not exactly going out on a limb here, but the Red Devils are my pick to take the title home this season. It was a bit stunning to see them let it slip away last May, to their bitter cross-city rivals Manchester City no less, but I’d prefer to focus on two things that explain my contention that Manyoo will retake the crown. First, they were level on points with the Citizens. I feel like people keep forgetting that. Second, presumably they won’t be without Nemanja Vidic for a significant chunk of the season. I feel like people also keep forgetting that. Sir Alex Ferguson has gone out and got this side’s best attacking midfielder in years in Shinji Kagawa. They’re in the Van Persie sweepstakes. [Ed. Note: They're more than in as we would soon discover.] Tom Cleverley should be fit and ready to go. Mostly, I see a Man U side that has been getting stronger at the fringes ever since Sergio Aguero’s goal against QPR doomed them to a rare second-place finish, and it’s not as if we should doubt this group’s ability to have the mental toughness to reclaim the title even remotely.
Everything is not perfect, of course. Patrice Evra looked average or worse for most of the season, and even with Phil Jones and Chris Smalling looking promising, this is a backline about which there are serious questions, if for no other reason than Vidic and Rio Ferdinand are no longer spring chickens. Still, SAF has coasted to league titles with less, and there’s no reason to think he’s done strengthening either.
Mark: I’m writing this as the Robin van Persie signing is being announced, which strikes me as the chess move of all chess moves. Allow me to do my Ron Jaworski impression for a moment: You’re Man U. You have a chance to grab a striker who just had the best season in years with the team who finished right behind you in the table. Doing so also prevents your neighbors and biggest contenders to what you believe is your rightful throne from doing the same. You have the money. You may not need a striker at all, really, but this puts the two best offensive talents in England on the same team. Regardless of how it works out, these are the types of moves that help you win the English. Premier. League.
That felt good. You know who doesn’t feel good? Danny Welbeck and perennial champion in the Lesbian Lookalike Contest Chicharito.
The defining moment of the entire season last year was the image of Sir Alex Ferguson and Phil Jones looking disbelieving and dejected toward the scoreboard in Sunderland, having thought they just secured the league for the umpteenth time but instead glimpsing the scoreline as City’s shock comeback against QPR unfolded. We probably won’t see high drama like that for quite some time, so we’d better get the Manyoo schadenfreude in while we can. We all know what Wayne Rooney (and now van Persie) is capable of, so I won’t waste ink talking about how he’s going to score 20 goals and generally be a snarling menace. But how about Antonio Valencia? That guy really stepped into the role we all thought he was capable of when Cristiano Ronaldo shuffled off to Madrid, and essentially took mainstay Park Ji-Sung entirely out of the equation. Kid can ball, though my one knock on him is that he makes the completely insufferable Nani look better every time he plays well.
If there is a weakness in this side, you’re probably right that it’s at the back, which is a bit strange to say after all these years of historically good defenses. Rio and Vidic can’t be counted on to either stay healthy or come back to form, and Phil Jones proved himself a bit of an injury risk last season as well. You all are more bullish on Chris Smalling than I am — I see a guy who’s good in the air and decent at getting himself in positions to block opponents’ shots, but struggles with talented attackers and is dreadful at last-gasp tackling. Running back the David De Gea experience in goal is likely to help this team (his struggles in the early weeks last season masked what was a very solid season from the now-21-year-old). I’m a bit surprised that Sir Alex didn’t bring in any depth on the back line (and even let non-Ninja Turtle Fabio leave for QPR on loan).
On the other end, I know I’m more bullish on Ashley Young than you, AJ (though correct me if I’m wrong), but I still think there’s a case to be made that United’s attack is every bit as good, and probably better than, City’s. They can score from anywhere, any distance, any situation (set piece, open play, counter, 98th-minute cheating) and are very young (outside of Giggsy, Scholesy, and other old-timers that I begrudgingly respect) to boot. I’d say that United isn’t going to benefit from nine goals from penalties this season, but we all just know that’s not true.
It’s a two-team race, for sure, and I’m not going to start doubting Man U’s ability to bounce back and take the league by storm. Now someone please pour me a bourbon.
AJ: Isn’t the case you just made, the exact one I did for Chelsea signing RVP? No wonder you need bourbon.
Points of clarity before I formulate a full response:
- I like Ashley Young quite a bit, and their wing options are outrageous, every bit as deadly if not quite as heralded as Man City’s wide players.
- The defining moment of the season belonged to Sergio Aguero, not a Blue-colored-lens bit of schadenfreude involving SAF staring longingly at a scoreboard. Speaking of Aguero, he says hello and takes umbrage to your contention that the two best offensive forces in England now play for the same team.
Ben, who I’ll presume to speak for here, called this a non-Fergie move, and I think he’s quite right on that count. I love it, because it seems more about Manyoo’s rivals than about Man U itself, which let the record show I thought was going to win the title pre-RVP (by about 30 minutes), but it does seem to me to hint at more nerviness from the legendary manager than we’ve seen lately. Worrying about your rivals just seems so un-Ferguson-like. Isn’t the bigger need a Modric-type field general in midfield or more reinforcements for the backline? Maybe it doesn’t matter when you can get such a gifted player at a cut-rate price, even if he’s going to block the likes of poor Danny Welbeck. I feel bad for myself. I really was getting used to seeing Welbeck every week and enjoying his play. Guess we have to wait until the Glassman gets hurt in a Dutch friendly.
Mark: A small but wide gulf, re: Chelsea and Manyoo: The latter doesn’t have a possible headcase striker who would be utterly devastated by the arrival of a 29-year-old, brilliant piece of Dutch glass. The former has Fernando Torres and had the ghost of Andriy Shevchenko before that. That’s how I can square that circle. Now where’s my drink?
AJ: I’m really trying to keep Chelsea out of this, and I don’t disagree at this point, but, channeling Jaworski, when you’re Chelsea and you have all this talent, why would you gamble it all on just one guy getting his head right? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Mark: Yeah, I didn’t even bring up Chelsea that time! I’ve been so good!
AJ: Evra and Cleverly strike me as huge X-factors for this team, the former because he needs to be much better than he was last year and the latter because a lot of pressure is going to be on him if Man U doesn’t add another central midfielder.
Sam: Man U is my pick for the title as well because:
- I have a good deal of hate for City.
- Regardless of how much I hate I have for the Man Utd juggernaut, I love nearly every single one of their players.
The Van Persie signing is great, it smacks of the Berbatov signing a few years ago (though RVP is much better) and I believe the effect will be similar as it was in 2008, when it gave them added depth at those inevitable times when one or two of their strikers goes down or is tired from European and FA/Carling Cup competitions.
The fact of it is, when you’re competing in four or more competitions, you need at least four quality strikers. Signing RVP simply makes those four strikers better. Don’t weep for Danny Welbeck just yet. I imagine we’ll see a lot of him in the EPL, though I would expect Chich’s role to be even more limited than it was last year.
I’m not as high on their wingers as some of you. It’s my opinion that all of them are quite mercurial, but again, it’s a numbers game. You can play a combination of Nani, Valencia and Ashley Young based on who is on form.
I’ve had a raging clue thinking about writing this next section so I’ll just dive into it. Shinji Kagawa is so fucking awesome. He was the second best player on Dortmund (behind clue-machine Mario Gotze), and the case could be made that that was the case even when Nuri Sahin was part of the squad. I think people are going to be surprised about how deep he drops to link the defense and the attack. He’s really not a winger, and I would hesitate to even brand him as a trequartista, since that is closer to the role that the aforementioned Gotze played last year. If not for Eden Hazard, he would be the player I am most excited about seeing suit up in the Prem this year. This will be my most controversial statement, but I think he’s now the most technically-gifted player on Manchester United, taking that mantle from Nani.
Yes, there are questions at the back, and they haven’t really done anything to improve upon that. Whether Vidic can recreate his form from two years ago is easily the biggest of those questions. If that chip falls into place then all of their problems are made less noticeable and players like Jones and Smalling don’t have to shoulder as much of the burden for them to have a stout backline.