1. The Midfield: Once fans get over the jolt of euphoria inextricably linked to big-money signings, the rather less delirious reality will finally hit home: a summer that, while intriguing, didn’t yield the defensive midfielder United needs. Van Persie and Rooney should score plenty of goals next season, but they’ll have to score an awful lot to cover up for the likely struggles of a back four bereft of midfield cover. Tom Cleverley, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and, just to be kind, Anderson are all good players in their own ways, and, for the most part, they’ll form a reliable unit. However, when the going gets tough, when United encounters the attacking riches of Manchester City and Chelsea — two teams that netted a combined 11 goals against the Reds last season — things could get a little hairy. O! Hargreaves, where art thou?
2. The Pea: Over the last year, lots of people have said unflattering things about Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Bloggers have lambasted everything from his appearance (apparently, he looks like a lesbian – an observation that, frankly, is totally offensive, and not just to Chicharito) to his inability to stay onside (I must admit, this frustrates me, too.) Those voices grew louder when, during the second half of last season, Hernandez lost his penalty-area acumen, rendering him useless, since he’s always been inept outside the box. Then Danny Welbeck happened, and now Robin van Persie is happening. Reportedly, Chelsea – a team badly in need of a striker – has made “enquiries” about Chicharito’s future. Fergie, however, insists that he will use Hernandez as part of a four-man strike force reminiscent of Yorke, Cole, Sheringham and Solskjaer – you know, Bayern Munich, the Nou Camp, and all that.
3. The Captain: If, as seems increasingly likely, United doesn’t sign a central defender this transfer window, a lot will ride on the form and fitness of Nemanja Vidic. Vidic, of course, missed almost all of last season after injuring himself in that ill-fated loss to Basel. (Don’t worry, I won’t mention it again.) Had Vidic been available for selection, surely, surely his powerful headers would have prevented the 4-4 draw with Everton that effectively cost United the Premier League title. This year, the more salient issue is not his head but his damaged knee, and whether it is capable of preventing anything. Fingers crossed.
4. The Japanese Lad: Anyone who watched MUTV’s coverage of United’s pre-season tour knows that Paddy Crerand is fundamentally incapable of pronouncing Shinji Kagawa’s relatively simple last name. Refusing to yield to those baffling foreign syllables, Crerand instead resorted to a series of definitely annoying and borderline racist nicknames, the most irritating of which was “the Japanese lad.” Anyway, that’s the story behind the title. And if none of you watched MUTV’s pre-season coverage… well, boohoo. Over the coming weeks, Crerand, whose somnolent commentary made a boring series of matches even more boring, will have plenty of opportunities to familiarize himself with Kagawa’s name, since “the Japanese lad” plays a big part in Ferguson’s plans.
5. The Keepers: David De Gea recovered from a rocky start to finish last season confidently, but it will take more than just a few months of consistent catching to banish memories of United’s disastrous 3-2 loss to Blackburn. You get the feeling that Anders Lindegaard, De Gea’s cocky understudy, is always confident, regardless of his playing form. Lindegaard is inherently arrogant, and, unpleasant as it may be, his arrogance is probably what got him to the top of his profession. Those shoulders will never droop! Never! And with the ink still wet on his new contract, Lindegaard is determined to unseat De Gea. That should be a fascinating tussle.