About time! Old Trafford welcomes back Premiership football at long last this Monday evening, as the reds entertain Tottenham Hotspur in the first home game of the season.
Fresh out of back to back victories against Manchester City and West Bromwich Albion, the reds are looking to make it three wins on the bounce, although this one against the team from North London could be the toughest out of the lot.
New signings Jones, Young and De Gea are all set to make their home debuts, and a lot of focus will be on the new boys as they’re given the Old Trafford welcome. What’s more, injuries to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic will put extra emphasis on the performances of those at the back, and will show just what Jones and De Gea are made of.
A crisis at right back means that Chris Smalling will fill in there again, and will be the man to stop one of Spurs’ most threatening players, Gareth Bale. Smalling has been impressive covering that side of the back four, but this will probably prove to be a sterner test. He could do worse than to study video’s of the way Wes Brown handled him last November, by keeping the Welsh international at bay, and successfully shepherding him in to a packed midfield, affecting Spurs momentum.
For United, Ashley Young seems to be taking to life at Old Trafford like a duck to water, and he may have finally solved the left wing conundrum as to who will fill Ryan Giggs’ boots as the next flying left winger in a red shirt. He looks exciting, eager, and provided an assist for Rooney’s opener at the Hawthorns last weekend, also slotting the ball across the box which led to the own-goal winner. One thing of note was Young, renowned as a good set piece taker, took three corners and provided 15 crosses in the same match, none of which found a red shirt. An element of his game which is sure to improve at Old Trafford.
I took time out at the weekend to speak to Spurs supporter Matty Keast who’ll be making the trip to Old Trafford on Monday night, for his take on how Spurs would approach this game. Would the postponement of last weeks match mean they’re at an advantage over the reds, in this being their opener?
“Not at all. United have played in a very competitive Community Shield match, and had a tough test against West Brom, so they should have the edge fitness wise. We’ve only played a very, very weak Heart of Midlothian side, where we looked great but you can’t really judge us on that performance because of how poor Scottish football is and how poor Hearts were. We’ve been a bit quiet in the transfer market in summer and we should have improved our squad – we needed to buy and sell well, and I don’t think we’ve done either. Hopefully Diarra is coming, and I like that. Adebeyor may upset some, but I’d take him – still only 27 and he showed for Real Madrid against us last season how good he can be. We needed to get rid of the likes of, Bentley, Jenas and a few others.”
So who would be the biggest threat to United on Monday night? Keast said: “Defoe looks sharp, and he needs a big season. He came back to pre-season training earlier than everybody else to work on his fitness and his sharpness. That showed against Hearts in midweek. Obviously Bale and Van Der Vaart are the key. I think with Vidic and maybe Ferdinand missing and with a keeper maybe lacking confidence, we can score goals and cause problems. We need to go after United – that’s the only way we can come away with a result.”
The fluidity that was missing for most parts of United’s season last year was evident to see in the Community Shield game, and early on in the game at the Hawthorns last week. Much of this can be attributed to the midfield selection of Young, Nani, Cleverley and Anderson. It could prove to be an unchanged midfield, although with the usual centre-back pairing missing, Michael Carrick could be called upon to protect the back four at the expense of Tom Cleverley.
Rooney will start upfront, and with an abundance of strikers to pick from to play alongside him, I’m taking a punt on Berbatov to start against his former side, a team he often finds the net against.
I asked Matty what his prediction was for the game: “I’d be happy with a draw, but we never seem to be able to come away with anything from Old Trafford. Should be a good game, I think United may just nick it, but like I say – if we go at them, I could be totally wrong.”
Wherever you’re watching it, enjoy the game.