Man Utd's Title Race: Don't Panic and Stay Red
If opening weekend fixtures meant anything in the long term, the landscape of English football would make for dramatically different viewing.
th league title were not just being roasted on an open fire, but pouring themselves with additional lighter fluid. Everton came out as deserved winners, whilst United were shambolic remnants of a team whose financial straits have dominated the news more than any on-pitch celebrations in recent seasons. David Moyes men were brave, bold and clinical. Sir Alex Fergusons kids were shit. Really, really shit. Look at the evidence: Wayne Rooney chased the ball like a hobbit running from a gas explosion. Nani, unplayable on his best days, was selfish and ultimately lazy, failing to put in enough balls into the box to give the strike force an opportunity. Danny Welbeck worked hard but severely lacked pace, making breakout counter attacks look like Subbuteo played in slow motion. Nemanja Vidic, fresh from a season out with injury, looked like a man on hunger strike, whilst Anderson absolutely did not. Even Paul Scholes, nearing another retirement, played with a reckless abandon often seen on playgrounds when the school bully decides he doesnt like the good looking blond kid in glasses and runs him down like a bulldozer. Nothing clicked and, when it looked like it might, Everton were positioned well enough to divert the danger elsewhere, if not turning it into a revenge mission. Nothing looked like it would happen for the boys in red. Yet, one game does not make a league, and certainly not one at the very start of the season. For all the talk of desperation on the part of United, the team showed a number of promising signs not just in the game, but out of it as well. Although not ready for playing time just yet, the once-creaky backline now looks to have strength in numbers again. With Vidic back and Jonny Evans, Phil Jones and Rio Ferdinand likely to return within a fortnight, there are finally a multitude of options for Sir Alex to choose from. Even the much needed cover for left back has arrived in Alexander Buttner, which gives Fergie the chance to drop Patrice Evra for a game or two. More importantly, once-controversial goalkeeper David de Gea is finding his feet and hands and growing in confidence in front of the goal posts. Everton would have been two or three goals to the good had it not been for some incredible stops from the Spanish doughnut thief. Where United found themselves so liable last season is now approaching one of the strongest areas of the side. Which cannot be said for midfield. Michael Carrick had to cover for Ferdinand in defence, which created a huge problem for the middle of the pitch which became dominated by a fantastic performance from Fellaini. Scholes was reckless and sometimes looked lost with the ball, but always links well with Antonio Valencia, sadly confined to right-back which blunted the majority of his usual skills and attacks. With no one to control the space just in front of the defence, many opponents will find themselves creating chances and controlling the possession if they line up correctly. The silver lining for this situation is that Jones will soon be back in action. Though better as a centre-back but often utilised as a right-back, Jones can cover in midfield and is known for dominating runs through the middle of the pitch. There is no reason that Jones could not be thrown in behind Carrick and Tom Cleverley to play the Yaya Toure bully role. He may not be as good in the role as Toure, but United would improve with a telephone box in midfield, let alone a real player with obvious talents and years to grow into the role. Its the biggest vulnerability of the team, one that Ferguson hasnt acknowledged with his chequebook in years, but its possible he may not have to. If he gives Jones an opportunity to perform (or, miraculously, if Darren Fletcher is able to return to first team football, which doesnt seem as far away as once thought), the bandages could be enough to keep opponents from further exposing the cuts and bruises. Which leads us to the best signing of the year. He was player of the year last season, scored important goals for his club, and led his team to the league title wait a minute, thats not Robin Van Persie No, in fact the most astute new purchase has been for Japanese attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa. Enterprising, clever, constantly moving and always a thorn in the side of the opposition, Kagawa was brought in to pierce the defence and create chances through link-up play with the forwards. On first impressions, a fit Rooney and settled Van Persie could benefit greatly from the former Dortmund player, he was that good. Some of Uniteds best football last season, particularly early on, came from short passes and interloping around the penalty box. Kagawa makes it look like an art form, one that could secure a lot of goals and points for the club if the frontline is on the same wavelength. Im personally intrigued to see how he plays alongside Javier Hernandez; if the little pea can stop finding himself offside every four out of five times, it could be the boost to his confidence (as well as his managers) that Chicharito needs. So what of the £25 million man? On first impressions, theres no way of knowing. Some will say that United have signed the best forward in the league off the back of his best season yet for a knock down price, whilst others will be quick to note his age and proneness to injury. The fact that Van Persie is 29, in truth, means nothing. Unlike an Emile Heskey, RVP only seems to get better as he gets older; the suggestion that we have yet to see his peak is fair and valid, of not a little hopeful. Lest we forget a similar player, and fellow Dutchman, Ruud Van Nistelrooy who joined Real Madrid around his 30th birthday for 24 million euros. He scored 46 goals in 68 appearances and, despite taking prolonged time out for knee surgery, was still able to perform for big clubs until his retirement in 2012. Injuries may get the best of him in the end, but Sir Alex knows exactly what he has purchased goals. The line-up of Rooney, Welbeck, RVP, Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov, Nani, Valencia, Kagawa and Young could frighten any team in Europe. Add newly signed Chilean striker Angelo Henriquez to the pile and the intent is simple: never lose the league title on goal difference again. Everton didnt allow that plan to formulate, but dont think that every club will be able to stop Man Utd every week. No one is better at rallying a team with their backs against the wall like Ferguson and, unless his obsession gets the best of him, well likely see more than six-or-more goal drubbing at the hands of the Red Devils. Its easy to laugh at a big club like Manchester United, expected to clinically finish every game firmly in the drivers seat. In reality, every season throws up its fair share of surprises: Southampton were never meant to beat them 6-3 at The Dell, nor Wolves defeat us by a single goal at the Molineux. Every team is destined to be outclassed and outgunned at some point, by teams far worse than an Everton who could have given City and Chelsea a run for their money on this performance. The positives far outweigh the negatives though and, with 37 more games to determine the fate of the Premier League dynasty, it would be asinine to rule out the 19-time champions just yet. When it comes to time and predictability, you only have to ask any City player, staff or fan to think back to the 93rd minute and nineteeth second against QPR; until the final whistle blows on the final day in the final match, nothing is certain. On the 95th minute, no one learned that harder than Manchester United. Theyll never want to heed that lesson again.