This season in the Premier League is set to go down in history as the most exciting ever.
Not only do we have a good ol’ fashioned relegation scrap that looks like involving 11 teams, but the top seven are all still in with a shout of winning the title, being separated by just 14 points! Who are you calling a mid-table club?
With many more twists and turns between now and May, I have decided to assess the chances of all seven teams who realistically could still lift the Premier League trophy at the end of the season. One thing’s for sure: it’s gonna be a hell of a ride…
This article looks at what Manchester United need to do if they want to be carved on to the trophy as Premier League champions 2014…
Everyone knew it was going to happen one day; a day that every fan of Manchester United lived in fear of and wished that would never happen. The seemingly immortal, who had dominated the English Premier League since its introduction, announced his retirement.
Whilst it was inevitable that this great manager would soon hang up his proverbial boots, wanting to claim the title back from the fierce rivals in blue as his final hurrah, Sir Alex Ferguson’s announcement nevertheless came as a shock to the footballing world both with regards to the speed in which the rumours suddenly spread and that the end of a truly remarkable era was finally upon us.
The biggest question of course was who would replace this legend in the Old Trafford hot seat. The man tasked with the impossible feat of emulating Fergie was none other than David Moyes who, despite a lack of silverware in his 11 years at Goodison Park, was seen as an overachiever courtesy of his years of Everton stability on a shoestring budget, and was recommended by his predecessor as the ideal candidate.
Unfortunately for Moyes, he has certainly endured a baptism of fire at Old Trafford, even more so by the necessity to find his feet quickly courtesy of a fixture list that saw the club face Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool twice, alongside his managerial bow in the Champions League (if we discount his brief, failed qualifying appearance with Everton).
So far, the Red Devils have struggled to keep up the pace and are currently 11 points of the top. Yet after an erratic start, it began to look as though the ship was steadying before three consecutive 2-1 defeats to Tottenham in the league and Swansea and Sunderland in the FA and League Cups saw concerns rise again.
Yet it was inevitable that the vultures would be swirling above Old Trafford, analysing and criticising everything less than perfection in a far greater proportion than at any other club.
Moyes knew the situation he was letting himself in for, and with little space left on the media bandwagon, perhaps the only way is up?
With a transfer window to strengthen the squad, Moyes’ greater understanding of the club and players having had six months to settle, and the mentality of champions, it would be careless to write Manchester United out of the title picture this early.
They are also notoriously strong in the run in at the end of the season; Moyes may just be beginning to figure out how to get the steamroller running again. Besides, it’s not like they haven’t done it before, have they Newcastle and Arsenal fans…
In Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, accompanied by the improving Danny Welbeck and impact substitute Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez, Manchester United have a formidable attack that will strike fear into the hearts of any Premier League defence. Both Rooney and RVP are world class players on their day, with both possessing the ability to display that moment of magic that can be the fine line between success and failure.
Whilst the strikeforce is clearly their unique selling point, particularly aided by the unsung hero Michael Carrick and hopefully, for everyone associated with the club, a returning Darren Fletcher Manchester United fans can be buoyed by their ever improving David de Gea.
After a somewhat questionable start to life in England, the Spaniard has greatly improved and is certainly one of the brightest young goalkeepers in the world, behind a back line that still possesses the gladiator that is Nemanja Vidic who, when fit, will still stop many a striker in his path. Furthermore, the delightful Adnan Januzaj has burst onto the scene after years of praise at youth level, becoming the brightest spark of what has been a difficult season.
Yet perhaps the biggest strength, above and beyond the players and the coaching staff, is the brand itself. Manchester United are a global superpower in world football, meaning that opposition teams are already fighting a psychological battle before a single ball is kicked.
Many teams travelling to Old Trafford are in a David vs Goliath situation where, on most occasions, Goliath triumphs as would be expected. Whilst Fergie may be gone, Manchester United still cannot seriously be written off until the season is done and dusted.
How to win the title
You may think that I haven’t written a great deal about the strengths of Manchester United – and you would be correct. In complete honesty, this is the worst Manchester United team to have ever played in the Premier League, and thus I have somewhat struggled to praise their strengths.
This waning team have already been punching way above their belt for several years now, combining far greater than the sum of its’ parts; yet with Sir Alex’s winning mentality and ability to get the best out of players, no one questioned it whilst they continued winning.
Yet there was surely going to be an inevitable collapse, where it could possibly be argued that Fergie’s desire to go out on top by overhauling the noisy neighbours in his final season has muddied the waters of continuity; as a result, he didn’t build for the future as he had done across previous generations, leaving what was already a daunting task near impossible for Moyes.
But let’s not get too dismissive of the Red Devils. After what has been a greatly transitional period, Moyes has come through somewhat unscathed (bar from the media) and only trails Arsenal by 11 points. With it being so tight at the top, teams will inevitably dropping more points more regularly, and thus the bridge can be gapped far quicker than if it were simply a one or two horse race, whilst several of the teams in the relegation scrap will surely throw a few spanners in the works.
Certainly, Moyes needs to spend this January – and big. Managers lament the winter transfer window, yet unless Moyes simply wants to write this season off – which the board will surely not want given the riches that would disappear if they don’t qualify for the Champions League – several big signings will need to be brought in.
Number one on the shopping list will certainly be a creative midfielder – the type the club haven’t seen since Paul Scholes. Whilst Carrick is capable of spraying passes around the pitch, his defence nature quells his attacking instincts, and thus United lack the link up play required to aid their strong attack.
The Wesley Sneijder of 2010 – the key part of Inter Milan’s historic treble and World Cup finalist with Holland – would be absolutely perfect right now. Fredy Guarin, Koke, Ilkay Gundogan and Ross Barkley have all been touted too yet, as fabulous a signing as any of them would be, it may be argued that a slightly more accomplished star with an experienced head who knows exactly how to pull his team out from the dirt would be better.
It would also be fantastic for the Red Devils to secure a creative wide man – one who can beat a man with a burst of pace and provide ammunition for the awaiting attack whilst notching a few goals himself.
Both Nani and Ashley Young are far too inconsistent, more regularly performing poorly than any good, whilst Luis Antonio Valencia has lost a yard of pace following his knee injury and, while still a reliable player, is hardly the star man who can turn a game. Adnan Januzaj shows terrific promise, but it is still too early for him to hold the weight of expectation at such a young age.
The Red Devils have had some terrific wide men over the years, and the lack of talent currently almost limits the tactics to being played through the middle. If only they had that Portuguese lad from a few years ago; what ever happened to him…?
Lastly, a tough tackling, no nonsense centre back would be ideal at the heart of Man Utd’s defence. Injuries and age have unfortunately caught up on the once impenetrable partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.
Whilst the latter can still perform expertly when fit, his other options do not quite yet feel the grade of champions, with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans yet to truly impose themselves as a leading figure at the back. It is no good having a world class attack when you are leaking goals at the back – something that the club seem to be doing far more regularly these days.
A dominant centre back who can partner Vidic when possible, whilst aiding the development of the youngsters, would go a long way to boosting the confidence of this club once again.
Yet that is perhaps the biggest thing, above all signings, that Manchester United need to attempt to successfully defend their title. Confidence. Everyone knew of the immense ‘Fergie Factor’, yet just how hard it has hit them is perhaps a shock.
Some of this can be discredited with Moyes simply finding his feet and adapting to his new surroundings – something which he seems to be doing now. But they’ve lost that fear factor: Old Trafford is not the fortress it once was, and there is no longer than strong belief that a winning goal will come in Fergie Time when it is needed.
Moyes needs to recreate that belief and winning mentality that drove this great club to the upper echelons of world football as a dominant force. Players will undoubtedly need to come in to strengthen the club – arguably more so than any of their top 7 rivals – but if that confidence and intimidating presence can return, Manchester United can still salvage their season in these final months.
Prediction: Fifth – their poor start to the season will just give them too much to do to catch up with the four above them, but they will definitely be putting pressure on them.
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