Last season, United were some way short of what I’d expect of a team filled with the ability it has. Despite adding Owen Hargreaves, Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Nani to what was already a Championship winning side, we finished 2 points behind our total from the season before. Even with all the goals Ronaldo scored, we were still a few short of our goals tally from the previous season.
When I watched Chelsea, looked at their players, looked at how they were playing, I couldn’t believe we were toe-to-toe with them for the closing weeks of the season, particularly when considering the tactical ineptness their manager possessed.
Of course, we won the league title and the European Cup, making 2007-2008 the second most successful season in our club’s entire history. I’m not going to slate them because of points or goals, certainly not. However, I felt like there was so much more for our team to give. Losing to the likes of City (twice), West Ham and Bolton isn’t good enough. Not that I expect us to go through the season unbeaten, or feel like we should even strive for that, but we had shoddy performances too many times last season and it’s something I think we can definitely improve on. And I don’t believe that it’s reliant on us signing a new striker.
However, some people are already writing us off, believing Scolari has what it takes to lead Chelsea to the title, but I just can’t get my head around why!
For starters, our most effective players last season weren’t older than 23-years-old. Next season, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Anderson and Nani will all be a year further in to their careers. They’ll have a year’s more experience, a year’s more confidence, and for some of them, a year more of acclimatising themselves to Premiership football. I expect most if not all of these players to improve on their form last season.
Secondly, United have won consecutive league titles, won the European Cup and made the FA Cup final without buying a replacement for Ruud van Nistelrooy. For some reason though, this is forgotten. Louis Saha contributed next to nothing last season, getting just a couple of 90 minute stints under his belt, meaning Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were our only traditional forwards, with Ronaldo contributing more than his fair share of goals. For two seasons we’ve managed to outscore every other team in the league without having an out and out striker fit for the duration of the season, so even if we don’t sign Berbatov/Santa Cruz/Huntelaar/(Henry), I don’t see why there should be a problem.
Barnay Ronay, who writes for The Guardian and When Saturday Comes, seems to believe that United’s glory days are temporarily over, and has penned us in for a 2nd place finish this season. (Although, it must point out that this is the man who was left cold by United’s 7-1 battering of Roma).
1. He [Ferguson] would also have liked to hold on to Carlos Queiroz, who became Portugal manager this summer. In addition to his considerable tactical input, Queiroz offered important language skills, with Nani, Carlos Tevez and Anderson still “adjusting to the English language”.
Queiroz leaving was certainly a massive blow to United. He brought with him new tactics and new methods for how things were to be run. He was organised differently to Ferguson and introduced things that otherwise would have been overlooked. However, just because he’s gone, it doesn’t mean that all the positives he implemented will suddenly be forgotten. The improvements he brought in behind the scenes will all still be ticking over nicely.
With the language skills being referred to, if it’s such a problem, we’ll hire a bloody translator! Christ, it’s not rocket science is it?
2. There are problems on the pitch too. The absence of an orthodox central striker, which seemed like an oddity or even a tactical innovation last season, could be a real problem this time around – it was certainly dreadfully apparent during the Community Shield. The team that kicks off against Newcastle on Saturday will be without Ronaldo, Louis Saha and possibly also Wayne Rooney. Fraizer Campbell was terrific in the Championship for Hull last season, but Ferguson won’t be comfortable relying exclusively on him, especially with imminent trips to Liverpool and Chelsea. Given how strong the latter look, this is not a season in which to make a slow start.
I have already addressed above why not having a new striker is not the ‘problem’ people would make out it is. We have shown ourselves to be the best team in England, as well as winning the European Cup, without an out-and-out striker. The fact that we still don’t have one isn’t a sudden drastic problem than desperately needs resolving.
However, Ronay seems to think that Chelsea and Liverpool are looking strong ahead of the new season. So, because Chelsea have signed another 30-year-old midfielder and have employed a coach who has no experience of European domestic football, they now look stronger than the second placed team they were of last season?
Liverpool have added Robbie Keane to their squad and if he replicates his form from Spurs, he will certainly improve their chances. However, let’s not forget they finished 4th last season and to think that the introduction of one striker is going to improve them to the degree they need improving is naive. Benitez has brought in a few other unknowns from around Europe, but Liverpool’s aim this season will have to be closing the gap of 11 points between them and number 1 last season, not pushing for the title.
3. United were rescued in numerous matches last season by timely and inspired interventions from their roving winger and leading scorer. It seems almost inconceivable Ronaldo could be so influential on so many occasions this time around. Ferguson has talked about giving Rooney more attacking responsibility this season. If United are to maintain last season’s standards, Rooney will need to rise to it.
Now Ronaldo has confirmed his future is at United, for the time being at least, people are having to backtrack on all their previous claims that United were screwed next season. I’ve already highlighted how ridiculous the argument is. However, now he’s staying the press have to rely on Ronaldo not being able to repeat his brilliance of last season.
To think that a team containing talent like that of Rooney, Tevez, Scholes, Carrick, Nani, Anderson etc. will struggle is terribly ignorant or terribly stupid. Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Ruud van Nistelrooy, to name a few, were not perfect and all endured bad, as well as good, periods of form. United didn’t fall to pieces because one player wasn’t performing out of his skin though!
Paolo Bandini writes up The Guardian‘s report for Chelsea, predicting a 1st placed finish. Bandini reported on the events of Wimbledon for the same newspaper and maybe writing about tennis is where his true talent lies, if this example of his football journalism is much to go by.
1. Last season the Blues came within two points of the title and one shanked penalty of winning the Champions League with a manager whose methods were “25 years behind the times”. How, then, might they fare under the guidance of a World Cup winning manager?
I can only assume that ol Paolo hasn’t spent much time looking at the careers of World Cup winning managers.
When looking at this rare breed of manager, more often than not, if they go in to managing domestic clubs, they stick with what they know in their home nation. Beckenbauer returned to Bayern Munich after leading West Germany to World Cup success, Vicente Feola returned to manage his home town of Sao Paulo after winning the World Cup with Brazil, just as Aymoré Moreira returned to Brazil.
There are a few South American managers who braved the shores of Europe though, taking on clubs across the continent. Carlos Bilardo won the World Cup with his homeland, Argentina, before joining Spanish side, Sevilla. Within the next year, Bilardo returned to Argentina to manage Boca Juniors.
After winning the World Cup with Argentina, César Luis Menotti spent some years in Europe, managing teams including Barcelona and Sampdoria. Carlos Alberto Parreira won the World Cup with Brazil, then went on to manage Valencia and Fenerbahce. However, both had extremely limited success (ie. they didn’t get their teams relegated, but didn’t achieve anything of note), spending not much longer than a year or two at any of these European clubs.
Scolari has won the World Cup and that is an achievement most managers can only dream of, however, to think that correlates with success in Europe quite simply isn’t true. Of all the World Cup winning managers, not one of them has made a success of their managerial career in Europe, if not already residing from that part of the World. The odds are stacked against him, rather than in favour of him, for making a success out of a managerial career in Europe.
2. Their back four is formidable, and will be all the more so following the signing of José Bosingwa – not only a more accomplished defender than Juliano Belletti, but quicker and more energetic going forward.
By this definition, Chelsea’s defence should cause us to fear them because they are impressive, powerful or difficult. Now, whilst I am not questioning that they have a fairly decent defence, I wouldn’t call them scary.
It’s all a matter of opinion I suppose, but I’d argue all the players in our back four are superior to those in Chelsea’s. I’d rather Evra in my team than A Cole, I’d rather Vidic and Ferdinand over Carvalho and Terry, and I’d rather Brown/Neville starting ahead of Beletti/Ferreira. (Bosingwa’s form in the Premiership is yet to be proven).
But if we look at this statistically, to see whether we would be right to fear Chelsea’s defence as is suggested, maybe it can surpass my mere opinion.
In 38 league games, Chelsea conceded 26 goals (0.68 goals per game) in contrast to United’s 22 goals (0.58 goals per game). If we look at all the games the two sides played in, taking in to consideration the European Cup, as well as the FA and League Cups, the point is emphasised all the more. Chelsea conceded a further 19 goals in other competitions, a total of 45 goals in 61 games (0.74 goals per game). United conceded a further 10 goals, a total of 32 goals in 56 games (0.57 goals per game).
So, pretty simply, United’s defence is better than Chelsea’s, but that is not the point I’m arguing here. For Chelsea to instil fear in the opposition, it means they need to be exhibiting something other teams don’t have.
If you look at Liverpool’s record in the league, they conceded 28 goals (0.74 goals per game) and in all competitions, 50 goals in 59 games (0.85 goals per game). Therefore, Chelsea’s defence is more alike to that of Liverpool’s, the side which finished 4th in the league, some 11 points off the top spot. Or are we supposed to believe that the inclusion of right-back Bosingwa, who I concede is a good player, will revolutionise the Chelsea defence?
3. The bookies make Manchester United favourites for the title but Chelsea have a more talented squad and were undone last year only by a United team elevated by Ferguson and the league’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo. This season, Chelsea have a canny manager of their own, while Ronaldo looks set to miss the first two months of the season for United. With the margins at the top as slim as they have been in nearly a decade, Chelsea don’t hope to win the league, they expect it.
If you thought it was just moronic WUMs on football forums that preached the ‘United are a one man team’ bollocks, then it looks like you were wrong.
There is no way to work out where United would have been last season without Ronaldo, because to take away his goals would suggest that if Ronaldo wasn’t scoring for us, no one would be, which doesn’t make sense. However, if we look at the top scorers last season, striking Ronaldo’s name from the list, then you’ll see two Manchester United players feature in the top 10 scorers in the Premiership, Tevez and Rooney. In contrast, if you look at Chelsea’s top scorers, the highest was Frank Lampard, who scraped in the table at 17th.
Wayne Rooney was one short of assisting as many goals in the league last season as Frank Lampard and Joe Cole put together.
To suggest that Chelsea have ‘a more talented squad’ is quite a strange one, and sadly, is not backed up with any evidence, opinion or otherwise. If Chelsea’s squad were more talented though, you imagine they wouldn’t have come 2nd to United in the league and wouldn’t have lost to United in the European Cup final.
Next season is less predictable than most Premiership seasons, it has to be said, with Scolari coming with the potential to be a superstar or a flop. However, it shouldn’t matter much what Scolari does with Chelsea if Sir Alex Ferguson continues to work his magic with United.