Rob Dawson and Mike Keegan, football writers at The Manchester Evening News, has given their thoughts on United ahead of the 2012-2013 season.
Scott the Red: United usually end the season so strongly. What went wrong last season?
Rob Dawson: I’ve still got no idea. I think if United played that sequence of games 100 times, they wouldn’t get a lower points tally than they did last season. The games that stick out are obviously Wigan, Everton and City. I think they probably ran into Wigan at the wrong time because they were just getting to grips with Roberto Martinez’s 3-4-3. I think if that game had been played two weeks earlier, United would have won comfortably. The result against Everton at home was unforgivable. To be 4-2 up with the final whistle in sight and not close the game out is unacceptable for a team of United’s quality and experience. I will never understand why Patrice Evra was in the position to hit the post when United were already 4-2 up. The whole game was just bizarre. As for City away, I think United lost as soon as the team sheet went in.
STR: It certainly wasn’t our best XI that Fergie put out for City. Valencia on the bench? What? But is United’s current squad capable of winning the league?
RD: I think they’ve got a squad strong enough to mount a prolonged title challenge and be right in the mix if City suffer injuries or slip up. I still think City have got a stronger first XI but United’s squad has greater depth. But if City can keep everyone fit and in form I think it’ll be very hard to stop them winning the league again. I would change that prediction if United signed a top-class midfielder before September 1st. Signing Robin van Persie has certainly evened things up a bit though and I think it’ll be a fascinating battle this season.
MK: I don’t think it is. It’s been said often elsewhere that last season’s second place was one of Fergie’s finest achievements at Old Trafford and I agree. The prospect of Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney is one that has lifted expectations but that big question still remains over central midfield. I think the lack of that ball-winner could trip United up this season although it could be rectified before the end of the transfer window.
STR: Given United’s injury crisis and the money City have spent, was it surprising they only won the league on goal difference?
RD: Most definitely. Because of the way the season ended, United’s injury crisis throughout the campaign is overlooked. They did remarkably well to get as close as they did but that’s forgotten because they threw it away at the end.
MK: No. I think a lot of people underestimate how hard it is to win the Premier League. They look at Blackburn all those years ago and think things are still the same. They aren’t. Blackburn were a bit of a one-off because at the time not many other teams were spending those amounts and it was a bit more of a level playing field. City needed to spend big to catch up and I thought Roberto Mancini did a fantastic job to take a squad of strangers to the title. If anything, they won it a year early which is pretty ominous for United although having said that, Fergie will probably be as hungry for the coming season as he has been for any during his time at Old Trafford which can only be a good thing for the Reds.
STR: Who do you think will be United’s most important player in 2012-2013?
MK: Anderson. Scoring goals has never really been a problem for United and the arrival of Robin van Persie should ensure that is the case again this term. Most Reds were crying out for a ball-winning midfielder over the summer and for good reason. United have not had that bite in the middle of the park since Roy Keane left and the departure of Park and the uncertainty surrounding Darren Fletcher’s future will see a lot of the responsibility fall on the Brazilian’s shoulders. It’s a big ask.
STR: If you had to pick a best XI from the two clubs, what would it look like?
RD: Hart, Richards, Clichy, Vidic, Kompany, Carrick, Y Toure, Silva, Van Persie, Rooney, Aguero.
MK: Hart, Clichy, Richards, Vidic, Kompany, Toure, Silva, Carrick, Aguero, Rooney, Van Persie.
STR: What’s the best/worst thing about writing for the MEN?
MK: The best thing is getting paid to write about something that you love watching. There are better-paid jobs but you cannot put a price on looking forward to going into work every day. The worst thing is the constant string of abuse and accusations from strangers on Twitter. It used to annoy me but now I actually take some kind of perverse enjoyment from it. If someone sends me something ludicrous I just tend to ‘favourite’ it. Because I work for news as well as sport sometimes I’ll have to do a straight news shift and knocking on someone’s door when a tragedy has just struck their family is never something you look forward to.
RD: The best thing is being based in a city with the two best teams in England. The worst thing is being caught in the middle of the rivalry between them.