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2010 English Premier League: Manchester United

Sometimes when I sit down and start writing I leave the table wondering if I've been so esoteric or too obscure? Maybe some of that's rubbed off on reader Colin Sebastian -- in a good way -- as he draws an excellent, challenging comparison to tie together the 2010-11 season for Manchester United. Don't get caught up in the pop culture, this is a pretty hardcore breakdown of the Red Devils. Dare I say Colin hits this post -- in his first attempt -- like a certain Wayne Rooney vs. Newcastle all those years ago . 

Paranoid Ferg-adroid

By Colin Sebastian

When T.O.P. put out the offer to preview the upcoming EPL season, I jumped at the opportunity. You see, this is something I’ve been contemplating for a while - the similarities between Manchester United and Radiohead.

This idea materialized taking in United’s recent friendly against Philadelphia Union. I found myself fixated on Ryan Giggs running up and down the wing and Paul Scholes sending fifty yard passes to the laces of Federico Macheda just the same way I was fixed on Radiohead drummer Phil Selway back in 2003. Both instances were mesmerizing.

The most obvious connection between the two is another band, Joy Division. “Giggs, Giggs will tear you apart, again” inspired by “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” It seems only fitting that Radiohead lists the Salford quartet as one of their main influences.

Manchester United was the first English club to win the treble; Radiohead was the first English band to establish a “pay what you want” system for one of their albums.

"Optimistic" -- Owen Hargreaves, "My Iron Lung" -- Ji Sung Park, 'The Bends" -- David Beckham, "2+2=5" - Neville’s, Da Silva’s, and Evans’. Even the song titles mimic the club (idea stolen from my brother, Luke).

Thom Yorke and Sir Alex Ferguson lead through ideals and principles (not to mention, at times, neither can be understood). Johnny Greenwood and Wayne Rooney inspire with their talent and aggressive styles. The creativity and ingenuity flows through Ed O’Brien like a sublime Nani chip. Ryan Giggs and Colin Greenwood keep while the tempo and rhythm is kept by Paul Scholes and Phil Selway.

I can’t help but see the similarities in their styles of play. By no means do United and Radiohead get on in a beautiful manner. Often times both come off as bullish and brash, yet there is always underlying beauty and exquisite creativity through either pedals or passes.

United has always been about the club, from the chairman to the kit man. The principle that each person has a significant role to play is stressed by Radiohead, too. Although Yorke steers the creative process, it’s well documented that all members of the band contribute. And even though Ferguson is the most recognizable member of Manchester United, he’ll be the first to tell you no one is bigger than the club.

So, here goes nothing, Manchester United/Radiohead tour 2010-2011:

Set list / Fixtures --United are notoriously slow (read: awful) starters. A loss to Burnley in 2010, draws with Newcastle and Reading in 2009 and 2008. Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey wasn’t very successful as well. While the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign looks reasonable -- home dates against Newcastle and West Ham along with a trip to Fulham -- I’d be happy with six points. United face Arsenal and Chelsea back to back twice this term, not exactly ideal. My hope is that a win/draw in the first game will provide massive momentum going into the next fixture.

Realistically, the 2010-11 season may come down to one week in December. United face Arsenal December 11 at Old Trafford then must travel to Stamford Bridge the next week. Throw in a Champions League match and that’s enough to define a season. Two factors doomed United last year: inability to take points off other members of the "Big Four" and Rooney being rushed back from injury for the Champions League game against Bayern. United dropped nine points to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool, while Rooney didn’t score post Champions League exit. United typically hit their stride in December and three wins would go a long way towards gaining impetus for a title push.

Technical difficulties / Evra, Hargreaves, Ferdinand -- Patrice Evra says all the rights things, but he can’t seem to shake controversy -- the rows at Stamford Bridge and this summers’ World Cup come to mind. Whether Evra is deserving of blame for France’s unmitigated disaster of a World Cup is debatable. What isn’t questionable is the fact that he’s arguably United’s most consistent and integral player outside of Rooney. He’s important going forward and usually marks the opposition's most lethal attacker. Since joining in 2006, he’s featured 134 times. If there are any lingering effects of South Africa, it could spell disaster for United’s back line.

What a difference a healthy Owen Hargreaves would make, eh?. He is without a doubt, my favorite player of all time. When fit, he rivals Michael Essien as the best holding midfielder in the world. He runs, distributes the ball, tackles and is underrated delivering set pieces. Problem is he’ll never be fit again. Hargreaves’ tendinitis has destroyed the career of a player who could play centrally, on the right, and at right back at a high level. It would be ludicrous to think he can return to the form of the player who bottled up Florent Malouda at the Luzhniki in 2008 or the player whose free kick sealed the EPL title in 2007-08, but he still has a role to play. Should he come back, he would be the ideal candidate to bring on late to kill off matches. I fear for his career and hope the distraction of such doesn’t take a toll on the squad.

Rio Ferdinand is the reason United won the Champions League/Premier League double in 2008. Sure, Cristiano Ronaldo scored 42 goals in all competitions, but it was the partnership of Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic which secured both titles. His pace and passing are the perfect complement to Nemanja Vidic’s tackling and aerial prowess. Apart from his skill as a defender and organizer, he would bring stability to United’s back line. In 2010, Vidic and Ferdinand featured a combined 36 times in the league (compared to 57 in 2009 and 67 in 2008). Ferdinand is currently suffering from back and knee ailments. If he doesn’t return to form and fitness, the Premier League title doesn’t return either.

Upcoming shows / Tom Cleverley & Gabriel Obertan -- Karim Benzema, Steven Defour, Mesut Ozil, Hugo Lloris, Manuel Neuer, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. They’ve all been linked with United, but a summer move for anyone is unlikely. Ferguson’s line is that “he’s happy with the squad he’s got.” The development of Tom Cleverley and Gabriel Obertan is a big reason why. Cleverley can play throughout midfield with an up tempo style who is developing his goal scoring abilities, a fox in the box type player (I expect more of what we saw in the MLS All Star game). Think engine of Ivica Olic combined with the positional play and goal threat of Wesley Sneijder. After a successful spells at Leicester City in 2008-09 and Watford 2009-10, he could see first team action this year. [Ed. note: Cleverley appears on his way to loan at Wigan.]

When United secured the signature of Obertan, most thought he was a prospect past his time. He had impressed for the French U-21 national side, but never translated that to success at the club level for Bordeaux or even on loan at fellow Ligue 1 side Lorient. The comparisons to Ronaldo circa 2005 are endless. Back heels and step-overs for days, yet lacking an end product. With a full season at United under his belt and a proper preseason in 2010, I expect Obertan to feature heavily for the Reds this year and wouldn’t be surprised if he contributed 7-10 goals.

Stage setup / Formation -- At times, Ferguson’s team selection is baffling. I cringe when I see Giggs playing as a supporting striker (I’m wrong though. That’s why I work for a bank and he’s won 34 trophies). However, last year Ferguson was too reliant on his trusted 4-4-2 with Rooney and Berbatov in attack. The buildup down the wings was predictable and easy to snuff out without a creative force in central midfield. This season, I expect to see a 4-3-3 on a more regular basis (previously reserved for Champions League matches). Given the development of Gabriel Obertan, who can spell Nani and Antonio Valencia and Cleverley who can fill in for either for Scholes, Carrick, or Giggs, fatigue shouldn’t be a factor.

A 4-3-3 makes Rooney the focus of the attack and allows United to play quick, counter attacking and interchanging football -- what they do best. Until my last dying breath, I will argue that Dimitar Berbatov is a quality football player. Just not when partnering Rooney. Berbatov needs to play with a poacher. Too often do he and Rooney find themselves in the same, deeper areas looking to pick up the ball. My hope is that Ferguson pairs Berbatov with either Mame Biram Diouf or Macheda and Rooney with new signing Javier “Chícharito” Hernandez.

The "little pea" from Mexico reminds me of Carlos Tevez. Both work their socks off and are fluently changing positions -- attributes that compliment Roooney’s skill set. During the World Cup, Ji-Sung Park played centrally, in an advanced, creative position for South Korea, and did it well. He’s usually played out wide to negate the attack of the opposing winger. Should Anderson not recover from his ruptured cruciate ligament (or the rath of Ferguson), I’d move the South Korean inside, just behind Rooney and Chícharito. The movement, pace and stamina of those three could easily tire out a lumbering back line through intricate passing and movement off the ball with Scholes lying deeper with Valencia and Nani on the wings distributing.

“I Might Be Wrong” / Personal Thoughts -- This is a massive season for Rooney. Last season it was expected he’d step out of Ronaldo’s shadow, but I’m not sure anyone expected 34 goals in all competitions. That’s more than Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, George Best, and Sir Bobby Charlton ever scored in a single campaign. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about the asinine British media choking his development with unreal expectations. As United prepare to enter the AF (After Ferguson) time period, Rooney’s excellence becomes more critical to the club’s success. And for the record, I couldn’t care less that Rooney enjoys the occasional cigarette.

Michael Carrick is a great player. He does exactly what he’s told. If he criticized for short passes and square balls that retain possession, why do we value the possession statistic so much? With Ferguson instituting the 4-3-3 regularly this season, he will have a massive role in keeping the ball while Darren Fletcher hassles and Scholes distributes in the midfield three. I don’t know if we will ever anything like virtuoso display he put on against Roma in 2007, but I think he’ll play a massive role this season.

Encore / Last Word -- I expect Manchester United to win their 19th League title. It’s probably the last season for Edwin Van der Saar, Giggs, Scholes, and Gary Neville, their final tour if you will. I can’t see past them doing everything in their power to bring the title back. Rooney is entering his prime. Nani and Valencia have settled in to life at the club. Fletcher is on his way to being next the club's next captain. Vidic has the assurance of a new contract.

And, there’s Ferguson, surely he wants to put “Everything in Its Right Place” and usurp Liverpool’s 18 titles before he calls times on his career.

I’d be remiss not to acknowledge Mike and his willingness to let me run with this idea – many thanks. [Ed note: Right back at you.]

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In case you missed it:

* Newcastle United
* Fulham
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* Birmingham City
* Sunderland
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* Stoke City
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