Manchester United will look to reclaim the Premier League title in 2011 after losing out to an exciting Chelsea side last season.
Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson
Position last season: 2nd
Transfers in: Javier Hernandez (Guadalajara, £7m), Chris Smalling (Fulham, £10m)
Transfers out: Ben Foster (Birmingham, £6m), Tom Heaton (Cardiff, free), Zoran Tosic (£9m)
You win some, you lose some.
Manchester United fans are unaccustomed to being second best, but the table doesn’t lie. Chelsea won the title by a single point, and Sir Alex Ferguson will recall his side’s injury list that forced him to select Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick in central defence for part of the season, and the questionable refereeing decisions against Chelsea.
Remarkably despite first choice partnership Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic starting just nine games together in the Premier League last season, Manchester United had the best defensive record in the division. The Red Devils conceded just 28 goals in 38 games, which included anomalies such as the 3-0 loss at Fulham when Fletcher and Carrick shored the back line.
The fact that Chelsea scored 103 goals to Manchester United’s 86 highlights part of the problem. United actually scored more goals last season than in the previous campaign when they won the title, but this was because they demolished teams more frequently last season. Four 4-0 victories and three 5-0 results account for 31 of the total goals in just seven matches. This means that the remaining 55 goals in 31 games is an average score of 1.77 goals per game – less than Manchester United are usually known for.
Indeed, the biggest difference between Chelsea and Manchester United last season is that only one team stopped Chelsea from scoring in the Premier League – Birmingham at St Andrews. Manchester United were kept at bay six times – by Burnley, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Fulham, and Blackburn.
A strikeforce of Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Michael Owen and Federico Macheda looks on paper one of the best in the league, but the reason Manchester United keep getting linked with players such as Mesut Ozil is because there is a lack of creativity in central midfield. Antonio Valencia blossomed on the flanks, adding goals to his pace, trickery and crossing ability on the right, but a lack of guile through the middle is where Manchester United seem to be adrift of the very top teams in Europe.
A figure like Sneijder, Fabregas or Xavi is seemingly the only weakness in the squad, for Manchester United seem to have a plethora of excellent options in every other position. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are wonderful players, and Scholes bossed the midfield against Chelsea in the Community Shield, but their legs will not hold up for 60 games in a season.
Whether or not Red Devils fans are on the side of the Green and Gold campaign or believe Ferguson’s protests that the club would spend if the market was right, Manchester United have made some astute signings this summer – for the present and the future. Chris Smalling has grown rapidly as a player in the last two years and will learn a lot from Vidic and Ferdinand, while Hernandez looks lethal in the box – however comical his Community Shield goal.
From a Manchester United fan’s perspective, the pleasing aspect of the Community Shield is that they looked far sharper and more motivated that Chelsea. Whilst it is difficult to speculate on the title race so far in advance, it is almost certain that come May, Manchester United will be in contention for the Premier League title. They always are.