There can be little argument that the the title race in the new season will be fought between no more than six clubs. The same old suspects if you like, but with a slight difference. Liverpool does not look ready to win its first title since 1990. Even their ambitious American owner John Henry is targeting a Champions League qualifying place at the very best. Tottenham appear to have gone slightly backwards and cannot be seriously regarded as Premier League winners while Arsenal are having all sorts of problems off the field. That leaves Chelsea under a new manager who can only be described as an inexperienced and of course the big spending noisy neighbors, as the major threats to Manchester United.
Nevertheless, former Old Trafford star David Sadler is concerned about the difficult start to the season handed to the Champions writing in the Manchester Evening News that “Sir Alex Ferguson’s hopes of leading his side to a 20th league title will be given the ultimate baptism of fire. The veteran manager will hope to put further daylight between his side and their deadly rivals from Anfield. But in all his 25 years at the club, I can’t imagine that he has faced a tougher start to a campaign. United’s championship credentials will be given the sternest test with Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea in their opening five games. To compound that difficult task, they face Liverpool and City before the end of October.
If results don’t go their way, it’s no exaggeration to say that before the season reaches its third month, the reigning champions could be as good as out of the race for the title. Of course everyone has to face everyone at some point – but to come up against last season’s top six – and their main rivals for the Premier League crown – so soon, is far from ideal. The need for a good start cannot be overstated.
Hit the ground running and it can set the tone for the entire season. That’s when you build confidence, when you bed in new players and set the foundations for the challenge ahead.
Jose Mourinho changed the game when he was at Chelsea, starting like a steam train in his two title winning seasons. So effective was it that Ferguson has since admitted that he had to adapt his own tactics just to ensure United were not left standing still out of the blocks. But if his side are to lead from the front this time around, they are most likely going to have to see off their main rivals from the very start.
How important will three points be against West Brom in the opening game of the season with Spurs and Arsenal coming straight after? After a trip to Bolton, it’s then Chelsea at Old Trafford. To add spice to the pot, the more winnable games from their opening fixtures – against West Brom and Bolton – are both away from home. And we all know how disappointing United were on their travels last term.
But knowing Sir Alex, he won’t be daunted by United’s start. He will look at the challenging fixture list as a chance to strike first blood against his primary rivals. It’s a chance to put their cards on the table. In the end United were worthy champions last season and after an impressive pre season in the transfer market, there is every reason to believe they will be there again.
Ferguson has made major moves this summer and in Ashley Young he’s signed one of England’s most exciting talents. He is a player who has improved dramatically in recent seasons – not only for club but more recently for country. It is the case now that you look at every signing and ask if they could have made a difference against Barcelona in the Champions League final.
I think it’s fair to say Young would have. He is a flair player who can take people on, create and score goals. Surrounded by even higher quality players there is every reason to think his game will move up to another level again. In turn, Ferguson will hope it takes United to another level. Because as much as he would love a 20th title, he is every bit as determined to close the gap on Barcelona too.”
Sadler makes some reasonable points but it must also be remembered that apart from the away game at Anfield, the remaining four early season crunch matches take place at what has become an Old Trafford fortress.
Will Old Trafford be Ferguson’s secret weapon once more?
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