1) MANCHESTER UNITED
Pts: 41 (11-0-8)
Preseason Prediction: 1st
Accuracy: Ding, ding
What makes Sir Alex 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 Ryan Giggs and Paul 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.
Well, Macheda is going out on loan, but the premise remains, that Ferguson and Manchester United don’t like other teams winning the title, and they were going to do what it took to get it right this season.
It has not been a vintage United team, and it certainly wasn’t a vintage United start, but of late they’ve gotten healthy and fit, and they’ve moved right to the top of the class. And you can’t help think that the best may be yet to come. Wayne Rooney only has 2 goals, Rio Ferdinand looks a little more fit of late, Ryan Giggs looks like he might have one more stretch run in him. It’s hard to see how they’ll be caught.
Preseason best new signing:
Javier Hernandez – Sometimes you can just look at a guy and wonder what all the fuss is about. Then he starts to play and you get it a little more. Chicharito was born to be a goal-scorer, and while he doesn’t have the greatest touch or probably the greatest speed, he seems to always find himself in a place to put the ball in the back of the net.
That makes him especially valuable to a team like United, who will need to turn 0-0 and 1-1 games into 1-0 and 2-1 wins. Hernandez has made just 7 starts (and 7 appearances off the bench), but has 6 goals in just 8 shots on goal. That tells you all you need to know.
Preseason key player:
Antonio Valencia – He lasted just two games until an awful ankle injury against Rangers in the Champions League. But, recently, there has been good news for Valencia, as it seems his rehabilitation is going quicker than doctors thought, and he might be able to rejoin the club in March. That will be extremely helpful as the strain of playing in three different competitions starts to take its toll. It always seems like United has an answer, doesn’t it? If he’s anywhere near 100 percent, Valencia will be a big help.
Key player now:
Nani – He’s not quite Cristiano Ronaldo, but he’s been doing some Cristiano Ronaldo-like things this season, scoring goals out of virtually nothing, and just being a player that opposition can’t come close to dealing with.
But can he do it on a more consistent basis? Nani has 6 goals and 9 assists this season, which is pretty darn good, but if Nani and his skillset can make the leap to one of the world’s best (and I think he’s capable), Manchester United comes close to unstoppable by anyone this side of Barcelona.
Inside the numbers:
26 – Number of goals Dimitar Berbatov has scored in the league in the last two seasons (12 in 2009-2010, 14 this season), which is an amazing return, but how many of them were big goals? Can a player with 26 goals in two seasons be overrated? Even I’m not sure where I stand on it.
Outlook: It all looks pretty rosy right now at Old Trafford, but it is important to remember that United does not have the depth that Manchester City or Arsenal so right now. An injury to Nemanja Vidic could put someone like Chris Smalling on the field for long periods of time. Still, as I started, they are the most consistent team in the league, and that’s what wins championships.