Fans that don’t follow the American kind of football may not know who Marty Schottenheimer is, but – without boring you with his complete history – he’s widely regarded as one of the top coaches to have never won a Super Bowl title. But his reason for mention here is this famous (and quick) soundbite.
Why? Having seen Manchester United more than any other team this preseason (thinks to their tour of North America), I’ve seen a “gleam” in the eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson. They were nipped by a somewhat flawed Chelsea side for the Premier League title, captured only the League Cup, and Sir Alex probably stewed all summer (while also praying for his players to escape South Africa in one piece), vowing to not let it happen again.
There’s a reason why Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have a mutual admiration thing going, they are among the best the best at what they do, and they know how to motivate players week in and week out. Oh, and they win titles.
And I get the feeling that Ferguson (and a cast of great players) will do whatever it takes to rectify the second-place finish of a year ago:
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1) MANCHESTER UNITED
2009-10 standing: 2nd
Gaffer: Alex Ferguson (25th season)
Best new signing: Javier Hernandez – Everyone in North America knew Chicharito was good, but it came as a surprise to many in England when Hernandez was signed by Ferguson, but after an amazing preseason, he will certainly get on the field in some capacity. Even if he is just used as a substitute to begin the season, Hernandez is lethal on the counterattack by finding a way to beat offside traps and just get himself in position to score goals. How he teams with Wayne Rooney is another question, but at the least Hernandez is great depth up front, which anyone can use.
Biggest loss: Danny Welbeck – The Hernandez signing has allowed United to send Welbeck to Sunderland on loan. But if a loan signing is your biggest loss, you’re doing pretty well. They were also able to toss Mame Biram Diouf to Blackburn, meaning that they’ve given two strikers (whom will be counted on for the teams they went to) to competing clubs. Now that’s depth. I don’t particularly think they’ll miss either, and if they do, they can just call them back.
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Key player: Antonio Valencia – I’m not quite sure how Valencia continues to fly under the radar of top players in the league, but I think by the end of the season, Valencia will be finally given his due. In his critics’ defense, his stats aren’t overwhelming, he picked up 5 goals and 7 assists in 34 league appearances. But he’s extremely consistent, and his combination of size and quickness makes him a real handful to deal with. He just turned 25, and should be coming right into his prime just in time for Manchester United this season.
Random stat: For all the negative publicity that Dimitar Berbatov gets (yes, I’m aware of his price tag), he did score 12 goals last season in the league, well behind Wayne Rooney’s 26, but easily second, with Valencia and Ryan Giggs tying for third (5). Berbatov also made the third most appearances in the league for United last season behind Patrice Evra and Valencia. And he’s actually looked pretty good in the preseason. Maybe it just took a while (a few years) to adjust?
Amazingly, like Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City, United’s biggest problems are in the back. It’s unclear whether Rio Ferdinand will ever be himself again with a bad back and the fact he’ll be 32 next month. Thankfully for them, Nemanja Vidic has looked more like himself in the preseason, but who to pair him with (in lieu of Ferdinand) is a big question mark. They signed Chris Smalling from Fulham, but with all due respect to Ferguson, I just don’t see it, at least not now, and that could be a problem. Also remember that Edwin van der Sar will be 40 in two months, and Brazilian twins Fabio and Rafael – while serviceable – haven’t really lived up to their hype.
Age is also obviously a question with Giggs and Paul Scholes, but I think Ferguson will manage that well.
You have to think after a more than disappointing World Cup, Rooney returns with a chip on his shoulder as well, and United’s offense might be lethal with Rooney, Berbatov, Hernandez, and Valencia all in form. Darron Gibson (only 6 league starts last season) looks like he’s ready to assume more of a role in the midfield and that will take some of the pressure off Darren Fletcher, another underrated United player. Park Ji-Sung had a good World Cup for South Korea and will give his usual solid effort and won’t hurt you.
There are just so many players United can throw out there to do a job, and Ferguson (and the success of the club) does enough to keep everyone happy over the course of a long season. Even with their defensive problems, they still conceded a league-low 28 goals last season.
What makes Ferguson so great is that – even at his age – he doesn’t take failure (and for Manchester United, second is a failure) lying down. He sured up his squad and will continue to drive the point home throughout the cold winter months that failure is just not an option for 2010-2011.
You’ll see guys like Federico Macheda make guest appearances, you’ll see Giggs and Scholes score big goals out of nowhere, and – at the end of the day – you’ll see Manchester United edge out Chelsea for the Premier League title.
Thanks for reading all these previews, and keep checking in to World Soccer Reader for continued coverage of the English Premier League.