It is still a mystery how they faltered and lost the title in the very last minute last season. The Red Devils are vowed to fight back. Have they armed up enough this offseason to pull themselves closer to Manchester City?
Notable new signing: Shinji Kagawa is not arriving at Old Trafford only for the Asian market. He won the Bundesliga with Dortmund in his first two years of European football. He can play various positions in midfield. He scored nearly every two games in Dortmund, and he is only 23. He may not be an instant impact but £17 million will be a bargain long term investment.
Defence: With De Gea maturing and Lindegaard offering a healthy competition, goalkeeping looks more promising than defending for United. Evra is in the decline and Rafael is yet to be reliable. Vidic the captain is back, but neither Evans, Smalling nor Ferdinand is clear of injury problems. How Phil Jones’ learning curve has evolved could be crucial. Otherwise, with their limited depth, Valencia or Carrick will be employed in their secondary positions often again. A strong start is the key to winning title, and the key to a strong start for Manchester United will be defence.
Midfield: Wingers have been traditionally the engines to United’s attack. Nani, Valencia and Ashley Young were productive last season and will still be driving the offence. The middle of midfield, though, lacks the energy and work rate. No matter it is 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1, a holding midfielder, similar to Yaya Toure or Alex Song, would be essential to accompany the skilful Scholes, Carrick and Giggs. The closest to this style, Darren Fletcher, still has fitness concern. It will be the moment for the injury-prone Andersen and Cleverley to step up and fill the void. New arrival Kagawa will take time to get used to the pace of Premier League, but his versatility and aggressiveness will provide a good mix to the attack.
Attack: Welbeck’s first full season at Old Trafford was more than successful. His movement and techniques earn the trust of Sir Alex and he is capable to either pair up with Rooney or play alone up front. However, his finishing touch will need to be improved to ease the scoring burden of Wayne Rooney. Chicharito will be the first striker choice to come off the bench., but the question would be whether this combination is strong enough to sustain for the whole season, particularly with Berbatov ready to leave. Who will step up as the emergent fourth striker? The answer would very likely be Robin Van Persie. Regardless of whether he is worth the value, his ability to link up play, better finishing, coupling with his desire for a trophy makes him an exciting addition to United’s attack.
Player to watch: The humiliating derby loss in Old Trafford turned out to be a title-decider. On that day, Nemanja Vidic was suspended. Having only featured in 10 games due to injuries, the spiritual captain will be itching to make things straight. During his 6 1/2 seasons at Manchester, 2011/12 was the only year they failed to record a title. The Serbian will be determined to return even stronger to fend off Premier League strikers, particularly Fernando Torres who he always struggles against.
X-factor: Chicharito went through the “second year struggle” last sason. His poor passing in key areas had let him down. The addition of Van Persie will leave him with even less playing time, But Sir Alex Ferguson will count on his killer instinct late in tight games. He could be another Ole Gunner Solskjaer in 1999 for Manchester United.
Without a doubt, they are still title contender and will almost certainly be finishing in top 4. The depth at the back is worrying, as well as Sir Alex tactical decisions, both pre-game and in-game. The new additions and the returning injured players do strengthen the squad, but veteran leaders like Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Paul Scholes will have to ignite the winner’s attitude of the team in order to challenge their city rival.
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