Watching the scenes at Eastlands last season was akin to winning the lottery only to find out you’d thrown away the ticket, while watching your wife pack her things as she leaves you for your best mate as the doctor phones to tell you there’s been a mix up with your test results and its not good news after all.
Losing the Premier League title is always disappointing, losing it to City is a nightmare, while losing it with practically the last kick of the season is head in the oven tackle. Almost.
United always bounce back, well usually, but this season isn’t going to be easy, City aren’t about to give up the title it took over four decades to regain without a scrap. Here guest writer Melanie Hill takes a look at ten things United must do to return the title to it’s rightful home.
1. Invest in the present, as well as the future
As we know, Fergie loves a child prodigy, and loves to invest in youth. The Class of ’92 being a prime example of why he loves to do so, as well as Cristiano Ronaldo, who we signed when he was just 18.
Although this has paid off in the past, youth in recent years hasn’t necessarily been our saviour, especially last year, when we probably needed it more than ever during injury.
Although it’s exciting when Fergie wants to invest in youth (the alleged interest in Lucas Moura being an example), it’s equally as exciting when a rumour of a player with experience and talent is reported. We need someone who will be an immediate impact to our team, Shinji Kagawa could be this man, should he adapt well to the Premier League.
2. Hold onto leads better
Last year, we found ourselves leading, and falling behind, or drawing more times than I care to remember. The most memorable of times is the 4-4 draw versus Everton. United were on a roll, and breezing at 4-2, but Everton never looked like they were finished.
These particular two points were a blow to us, as this was during the run in to the title, and could have lead us into the derby a week later with a lot more confidence than we had.
This 4-4 draw gave City a higher ground, seeing us fall and drop two points within two minutes made us look weak, and very beatable – not the best signal to give out a week before a title deciding derby.
This coming season, we need to learn to drop back more, although more goals are always better (goal difference proved vital in the league this season), we need to learn the difference between holding onto a comfortable lead, and attacking for further goals.
3. When we’re controlling a game, score more
This is going to look hypocritical after my previous point, but in this point, I’m talking more about the 1-0 wins, and one goal leads we had last season.
Nineteen of our Premier League games last season ended with us either losing, drawing, or winning with only a one goal difference. Compare this with City, who won by three or more goals in twelve of their Premier League games last season. Is it any wonder they won the league on goal difference?
When we are controlling a game, we need to be scoring more goals. Although this sounds like a very obvious point to make, it didn’t happen enough last season. City won the league, on the last day, on goal difference. We’ve won the league in the past on goal difference; it is a vital part to the game, especially in the Premier League, where the competition is so fierce.
We also need to stop making silly mistakes, and underestimating clubs that come to Old Trafford. This happened last season versus Blackburn, where we faced a shock defeat at home to them, this shouldn’t have happened. Blackburn were relegated last season, but beat us at home? This isn’t acceptable for a club fighting for the title.
4. Beat City – They are our title rivals (and we need to win derbies)
The general consensus among fans when the team sheet was read out when we went to the Etihad, was shock, dismay, and confusion.
The team wasn’t very attacking, with Rooney upfront on his own. Most fans were also shocked at the exclusion of two on-form players; Antonio Valencia, and Danny Welbeck, and the inclusion of Ji Sung Park – though he had proved his worth in big games in a red shirt, he hadn’t started for a while, so it wasn’t the best decision Fergie has ever made. Although both Welbeck and Valencia came on as substitutes, it wasn’t enough.
We went to the Etihad already defeated. We parked the bus, all City had to do was find a gap. We need to be attacking in games like this; we’d already beaten them on their turf last season in the cup, what was stopping us doing it again? Nothing.
Next season, we cannot go into a derby already defeated. We need that winning mentality back, that has already won us nineteen league titles – the mentality that nothing is going to get in the way of us retrieving our trophy.
5. Increase Support at Old Trafford
As a season ticket holder for the last nine years, I’ve noticed a gradual decline in the atmosphere at Old Trafford, as much as it pains me to say it, it’s true.
On 6th August I went to Old Trafford to watch the women’s Olympic football, there were 25,000 people there, and they made more noise than I’ve heard at Old Trafford in a long while.
Speaking with a lot of fans, they agree, that the atmosphere needs to pick up, and soon. A home game is supposed to put a team at an advantage, and it used to. The sound that bellowed around Old Trafford when I was a kid, used to leave me awestruck, it was amazing. Now, I’m asked to sit down, or be quiet by fellow fans during the game, which quite frankly is a joke.
We need to get behind the boys on the pitch, they need to hear our voices, we need to give them that extra push, that extra bit of belief. You just have to look at the way Team GB are performing at this moment in time to know that, that extra voice matters, and pushes athletes, and players further.
When we’re at away games we do this, so why don’t we do it at home?
6. Home wins
There is supposed to be some sort of an advantage for teams when they play at home. Old Trafford can host nearly 75,000 fans on a match day, most of the time only 4000, if not less are opposing fans, so we need to get behind the team.
We, as fans saw too many silly home game defeats this season. One being… bear with me while I brace myself to type this… the 6-1 defeat to Manchester City. I have never been so embarrassed of a Manchester United performance in my life. I was sat there at Old Trafford, with my head in my hands. I could not believe what was unfolding.
This cannot happen. We were at home; it’d be bad enough on the road, never mind within Old Trafford. We made City look like Kings of football, while we were just mere schoolboys watching them run all over us.
Another terrible result at home, I have already mentioned. We cannot be losing to teams in the bottom 5th of the table, especially at home. Blackburn shook us when they beat us 3-2 at Old Trafford, it was unexpected, and shouldn’t happen again next season.
Home games should be fixtures where we excel. United shouldn’t have suffered the worst home defeat in the Premier League last season (okay, City also beat Norwich 6-1 at home last season) but that doesn’t matter, we should be nowhere near that statistic.
Home wins are going to be vital next season, we need to win them; we cannot afford to make mistakes.
7. Avoid injuries
Last season we had a lot of significant injuries that immediately affected our squad, two huge blows being the loss of Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher. Although, unfortunately due to extreme illness Darren Fletcher may not be available for a while, or at all, Vidic had made his return in preseason fixtures.
The back four definitely missed Vidic last season, and silly mistakes were made that undoubtedly wouldn’t have been made should he have been in the squad.
At one point last season, we had eleven men watching from the sidelines, injured, I hope and pray this doesn’t happen again, as I believe this is what drastically affected us last season.
There was no stability in our starting eleven, it differed from game to game at one point, and this affects the players, as they need some form of stability in order to read each other’s game.
I think, should we avoid injury, particularly in the back four, United could be a much stronger force this coming season. We are ready to fight for our trophy, no one was happy with the way we lost the title to our rivals, and I’ve never heard the players so pumped for the new season as they have been in interviews this summer.
8. Play to New Signing’s Strengths
It’s common knowledge that Shinji Kagawa plays best ‘in the hole’ and this is how Kagawa has been tested in his pre season appearances.
Kagawa was one of Dortmund’s biggest stars last season, and, in order for him to become as good as he could in the Premier League next season, we need to play to his strengths.
Watching him in pre-season, it is becoming clear that Kagawa could become the signing of the summer. The way he holds onto possession, and always seems to find a pass, which helps the team push forward is refreshing.
Another new signing is Nick Powell. Nick looks as though he could very easily become a great at United. He has all the core ability that United like – strength, courage and a good eye. Again, watching him fit in in preseason was refreshing, as he seems very up for adapting his game to the ‘United way’.
In interviews, Powell seems taken aback by how big of a club United is compared to Crewe, and it is. But what could turn him into a great are his passion and his commitment to becoming the best. It is clear that he is prepared to learn from his peers, and learn from Sir Alex. I just hope we do see him in the first team this season. I think appearances in the Carling Cup, and possibly the FA Cup are almost inevitable for young Powell.
9. Utilise set pieces
Last season, we missed what I call ‘Vidic’s super head’. Vidic is known to be able to jump above his peers during a corner, or a free kick and send the ball home, we need to do this more often.
Last season saw us waste set pieces too frequently, a corner is supposed to be an advantage, but there aren’t many goals that stick out for me that show that we utilised that advantage and scored from it.
This season we need to see more organisation in set pieces, and a lot more goals from them too. I cannot stress enough how important goal difference is, we’ve won the league with it before, we’ve lost the league with it before, every opportunity needs to be taken, especially at the level United are at.
10. Faith in David De Gea
As we all saw, De Gea had a bit of a rocky start to the Premier League, but the lad is 21, and is still learning. We’ve been spoilt the last few years with the genius that was Edwin Van der Sar, but I believe if we stand by him, De Gea could become a great at United.
Going from the style of play at Athletico Madrid to ours can’t have been easy for De Gea. He came to us inexperienced, young and used to the Spanish style of play. The Premier League is a lot quicker than La Liga, and there is a lot more pressure on De Gea here, than there ever was at Athletico Madrid.
United are title contenders, Athletico were De Gea’s boyhood club, they finished 5th in their season last year, so coming to us must have been a huge step up for him.
As I said, De Gea had a rocky start to his season, but that 6-1 defeat at City seemed to shake him, and make him realise he needed to work a lot harder. The difference between his performance against City at the beginning of the season, and his performance against Chelsea at the end of the season was astounding, and really made me realise just how far he had come.
I think fans and players need to have more faith in De Gea, because this season, I cannot see him making the same mistakes as he did, especially when he knows he has competition for his spot, with back up goalie Anders Lindegaard breathing down his neck. Every game counts, and judging by interviews with De Gea, he is ready to step up and be counted.