Pre-Season is obviously primarily about fitness and getting squads ready for the new season, it also gives managers a chance to try and gel any new signings into the team. It is completely far fetched for me to try and claim that a good run in pre-season completely cements a teams place at the top of the league next year, despite this Manchester United’s pre-season has been very successful, the team are unbeaten and have shown the resolve and determination to win, especially against rival City in the Community Shield, that saw them crowned champions last season. So will the devils be extending their record breaking 19 to 20 or are there teams that could spoil the party?
Man Utd –
Man Utd headed for a US tour on the back of the crushing defeat in the CL final against Barcelona, they knew they were to face Barcelona at the end of the tour of the US, this probably added some incentive for the team, and they headed through America like a steam roller.
They opened their pre-season USA tour by lining up against New England Revolution, smashing the Americans at their Gillette stadium 4-1. The first half was one that the rest of England would have loved to watch, with very little for the champions to gloat about. Their second half performance was a much stronger one however goals from Owen, a brace from Macheda and a superb move involving Giggs, Park and Obertan was audaciously finished with a clever lob over the New England’s goalkeeper.
The devils continued their steam rolling through America with another massive victory, this time the Seattle Sounders were on the receiving end, and this time Utd slotted 7 past their opponents and had a clean sheet to boot. Owen once again was on the mark and opened the scoring in the first half. Mame Biram Diouf latched onto a cross from Nani just four minutes after the restart. Rooney then decided to prove that his form toward the end of last season was to continue into this campaign, scoring an impressive hat-trick. Park scored the second of the tour to put Utd 6-0 up, before Obertan made Seattle’s headache worsen two minutes before time.
A third victory in a row at the expense of Chicago Fire strangely heralded some hope for the likes of Mancini and Villa-Boas, as it was a performance that summed up Utd’s record breaking season. Chicago Fire went ahead and held dominance for huge spells of the game, however a flurrish of goals in the second half, Rooney (66), Rafael (76) and Nani (82) completely turned their fortunes around. Just like last season Utd’s opponents were guilty of wasting chances, Utd on the other hand were the complete opposite and were clinical in front of goal. The 3-1 scoreline did not represent the run of play and on a different day it could have ended differently, however that’s not what matters and the devils showed the grit displayed all last season to come out on top.
Utd wrapped up their tour of American based teams against an MLS all-stars team, and despite this probably being the strongest opposition the devils faced across the pond it was their best performance, brushing the likes of Beckham and Henry aside with a confident 4-0 victory. The team featured a couple of variations as Fergie attempts to bring the whole squad up to fitness and lock on to an idea of a starting elven. Anderson opened the scoring on twenty minutes after clever one two’s between Utd’s front pair of Berbatov and Rooney pulled the all-stars defence apart. Park scored for the third time in the tour, and added a second to his file of individual goals as he snacked past two opposition defenders. Last season joint golden boot winner Berbatov then got on the scoresheet with some quick reactions pouncing on his own rebound after smashing an initial shot against the crossbar. Danny Wellbeck then entered the fray, replacing Young, and scored with his first touch from just outside the box, although his shot did take a significant deflection off defender Geoff Cameron.
It wasn’t quite time for Utd to hop back on the plane just yet however, as in a repeat of the Champions League final the English champions lined up against their Spainish counter-parts Barcelona. Again Fergie experimented with his team and again it succeeded as they can touch down at Machester Airport with smiles on their faces after an unbeaten tour of the US, after a 2-1 victory. Utd arguably sided a stronger side than Barca, as the catalan giants were without Messi, Xavi, Dani Alves, Javier Mascherano, Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol. However a team of such calibre has a second string with enough quality to give most teams a run for their money. It was Nani and Owen that stepped up to the plate for the champions. The game was a pretty even one and it looked to be a draw as Thiago cancelled out Nani’s earlier effort on 70 minutes, however a mere five minutes later the devils were back on top, despite this it was a game that very much could have gone a different way.
United closed up their pre-season in the community shield, which they showed all the resolve, and what some may class as luck by coming back from 2-0 down and scoring a winner in ‘Fergie time.’ If the community shield showed anything it showed the United resolve to win, no matter how the situation looks. It also showed that the defending champions have enough quality to defend their title, with Nani’s first goal looking something that came straight from the training ground of Barcelona. There’s also the amount of question marks that surround De Gea, he didn’t have the best time and the media know it, he’s been questioned by many different media outlets, this could have an adverse affect on the team next season. Going on the community shield it would appear that this season will be very similar to last for the devils, with added youth and a tad more depth in case injuries do plague their season.
To conclude, the devils have shown that they are still the ones to beat, and it is very hard to look past them for title number twenty, they’re squad has no big interruptions from players with big egos, meaning they are still in tune as a squad. De Gea could answer the prays of football fans across the land however, as he could throw away a perfect game with a couple of calamities, only time will tell how he will settle however.
So who can rival Man Utd? Personally I believe there’s Chelsea and City, they will be the clubs that will be pushing Utd the hardest. Liverpool could be a massive dark horse for the title, as many just expect them to finish fourth. Arsenal need to overhaul their squad, as they’ve already been booed of by fans, and that was in a friendly. Spurs’ situation is summed up by Harry Redknapp, they just don’t have the money to keep up with the likes of City, it’s a sad day for football when one concedes that money can get you the title, but it does, and without this money Spurs will find it hard to mount any sort of title challenge.
Man. City showed their winning resolve last season by being crowned FA cup champions, they even dispensed their rivals on the way to their historic win. They’ll need all this winning resolve and a form a lot more consistent than theirs of last year if they are to challenge for the title however. Undoubtedly the biggest team of superstars in the Prem they are always going to be up there, but again it could be a case of over-inflated egos and players that dominate the headlines rather than the team. Ultimately the key is Aguero, if he can turn it on in his first season he may be the league winner.
Chelsea have an exciting season ahead of them, with a young manager that reminds everyone just a bit too much of the chosen one who heralded great success for the club. They’ve snapped up Lukaka who is a great prospect for the future, but apart from that they have been relatively quiet in the transfer window. This isn’t a cause for concern for Chelsea fans however as the still have the same squad that set the Prem alight at the start of last season, and many can claim, and rightly so, that the loss of Wilkins cost them the league as a massive dip of form and a huge run of winless games followed Wilkins out of the door. Their impressive form once they recovered is also a good sign and if, next season, they were able to combine these then they will be the closest behind the holders.
As I previously mentioned Liverpool could be the outsiders to watch, obviously, after such a heavy investment by Dalglish expectations are high, despite this there is an air of realism around the club, and many think a jump from 6th to winners is a bit much, especially with the quality in between. I don’t think it’s too farfetched to believe however, I think the merseysiders were lucky to miss out on Young and got a more consistent player in Downing, Suarez is set to set the Premiership on fire after being very impressive in the Copa America, Adam is a sound player who could finally fill Alonso’s boots and if Carroll hits the form he had at the start of last season at Newcastle things look good. One area in which the outlook is not so rosy is the defence, letting in three goals in four games in pre-season, all against weaker opposition, the wrapping up of a left back in Enrique helps, but a CB is still a must before the window closes.
Arsenal always have to be mentioned when talking about title challengers, whether at the start of the season or due to a late surge they always have a spell near the top, that’s been the problem for years now however, it’s merely a spell at the top. Arsenal fans have lost their temper now, especially with a manager who continues to be oblivious to problems that have been pointed out time and time again, his love of Fabregas and Nasri means they’ll probably be wearing Arsenal red whilst their mind is elsewhere. Add to this the fact there’s still no leader amongst the squad and that Wenger continues to buy future stars instead of impact players, also there’s the fact that the team was booed off in pre-season friendlies, all in all things look bleak, and the Gunners will may find it difficult to finish in the top four.
So Manchester United, with their squad depth and skill shown in pre-season look odds on to extend their record, however it may be a closer gap between second and first than last season, the big bucks of City means they’ll be up there. Excitement around the Chelsea camp may turn into good results and Liverpool’s revolution under Dalglish gets it’s whole first season, all in all, this may be the closest season at the top that England has seen for many years.
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