Never had United been played off of the park and felt relief that the the defeat was only by a two goal margin. The Manager, the staff, the players and the fans knew changes were needed if they were to compete with the Catalan giants.
Domestic success was achieved, winning a record breaking nineteenth title but for the third season in a row, european failure burdened the club.
With the likes of Sneijder, Parker, Nasri, Defour, Rodwell, Huddlestone, Adam and many more linked with the club, it was obvious that central creativity was needed, especially with the pending retirement of Paul Scholes; so when a central midfield player was not brought to the club, question marks were perhaps going to be asked…. This was not actually the case as this season has begun with United not only beating their opponents, but taking them to the cleaners.
Fourteen goals put past the best three sides London had to offer within the opening six games, only two points dropped and on top of this, a beautiful comeback in the community shield against a very expensively put together Manchester City side. In such fine form, United had opposition fans, plus pundits and media, all talking positively about the side – even the odd word of ‘Barca-like’ popped into press with the likes of the youthful Cleverley, Anderson, Welbeck, Young and Nani playing with confidence.
Things appeared to be going swimmingly until the early Champions League fixtures. A lucky point away to an average Benfica side and what can only be described as a disatrous point at home to Basle in a game we should have lost have brought most of us back down to earth.Many United fans would have read the recent autobiography of Gary Neville, and in a similar fashion to the autobiography of Roy Keane from some years previous, they both mentioned the same thing which hindered United being successful in Europe over and over again – and this was a lack of being pushed domestically.
Does beating Arsenal 8-2 and Chelsea 3-1 breed confidence among the squad and give the likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David De Gea a sense of fitting in to a winning side? Of course it does.
However, does it makes players complacent?
Sir Alex Ferguson famously tested his first ever Premier League winning squad in a very effective psychological way. Whilst sitting in the dressing room after lifting the first title in 26 years, swigging back the champagne, he came in with a piece of paper in his hand and proceeded to tell the players that on that piece of paper consisted of the names of the squad members he felt would not be hungry to retain the title the following season. Leaving all of the squad worried they would be shipped out, looking at each other saying “well its not me he is on about” – it done the exact job he wanted; the players could not and would not believe their own name was on said piece of paper and busted a gut in pre season to show their desire to retain the trophy – which they did.
What Manchester United have this season is a big squad; lots of rotation due and the average age at around 23 yeard old. Obviously there will be moments when things do not go as expected; injuries, suspensions, disruptions to the best 11 – however having looked like world beaters for six games, to now narrowly scraping a draw with European minnows Basle, and winning an unconvincing encounter against newly promoted Norwich, I do wonder if the brilliant early season form has perhaps gone to the players heads already? Are they just turning up expecting to roll over anybody in their way? More importantly, have they painted over the cracks in the squad and the fact a central player is still without a doubt needed?
I, as many, have total confidence that Tom Cleverley will become a United and England regular, but with him injured, and Fletcher still not back to where he was this time last year after his illness, should we have broken the bank to bring somebody in? Carrick, Gibson and Anderson are all good footballers – but what they are not is Iniesta or Xavi and surely after that encounter in May, that is exaclty what sparked this new look United – to compete with the likes of the Barcelona midfield.
We all know in football what is needed is an evolution not a revolution – slowly but surely growing the ability and confidence of those players you have and adding when needed – and that is what Sir Alex is doing. Going out and spending irratically does not win titles or breed any sort of positive harmony within a dressing room, if anything, all it does it make players refuse to play.
Competition for places at United this season will be at its highest. All of the United strikers are in fine form; there are two top quality goalkeepers trying to earn that number 1 jersey, and above all, a certain crop of young defenders taking to the pitch as if they have been playing in the side for years, leaves me confident that domestic triumph will be on the cards – but at the back of my mind, knowing we won the Champions League in ’99 because Arsenal had put us to the sword in ’98 and pushed us to the finish line in ’99; and we won it in the same style in 2008 as Chelsea had been the dominant force for a few seasons and we knew we had to overcome their challenge to reach the top of the tree, does not leave me believing we will be successful in this years Champions League.