At the time the Premier League released its fixture for the season, not many thought this would be much of a contest.
The EPL season is on our doorstep again and the usual suspects of contenders for the title are being bandied around again.
Yes, it is all starting to sound like Groundhog Day again with the blue half of Manchester, the red half of Liverpool and the blue sixth of London being the protagonists fighting for silverware in many experts’ opinions.
However this football fan has a sneaking suspicion that there could be another tinge of red challenging for the title this season.
Yes, I am talking about the Red Devils of Manchester. Before you throw the raw eggs at my proverbial away team bus, hear me out.
I am going on record as a starved Aston Villa fan and come from a history of not liking United especially from the Sir Alex days, but my gut is telling me something about this year’s squad. It is about an 84 per cent feeling of “I told you so” with 16 per cent “what was I thinking”. Let me talk you through it…
1. Managerial stability
The question does still linger in many football pundits’ minds: is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the right man for the job, after starting his career as the gaffer on a massive high to hitting what would seem almost sackable lows to steadying the ship at the back third of the last campaign.
I had previously written a piece on managerial stability in modern football a few years back referencing what time is a good time to let someone go. Of course without knowing what is actually happening in the sheds, it is hard to tell.
In saying that, the powers that be in the Old Trafford boardroom have stuck with their man, so I would assume that the foundations are there from a tactical and man management standpoint. Hesitant tick.
2. Bruno Fernandes
One of the catalysts for their turnaround in form last term was the introduction of Bruno Fernandes, the Portuguese international from Sporting Lisbon (recognise that previously successful transfer path, Man U fans?).
Scoring eight goals and providing seven assists in 14 appearances, he was acknowledged for bringing an uplifting energy level to the team and precision to their set pieces. Not a bad return for a new arrival! This boy can play and has the right head on his shoulders. Massive tick.
3. The arrival of Donny van de Beek
Adding to their midfield is the interesting acquisition of Donny van de Beek from the exciting Ajax side of the last few years.
He will add a dimension to their midfield and you are likely to see a formidable and flexible combination with Fernandes, being able to interchange between holding and attacking roles. I watched him for Ajax and he was such an important cog in that team and he could be one of the buys of the season. Big tick.
4. Which Paul Pogba will turn up? Plus the departure of Alexis Sanchez
The enigma in the side is still Pogba. On his day, he is a brilliant footballer but he is inconsistent and seemingly temperamental, like Neymar. You don’t know which version of him is going to turn up on the pitch.
The transfer of Alexis Sanchez to Inter has seemingly provided a collective sigh of relief from the club and also on the cheque book too. Massive tick.
5. Banging in the goals
Complementing Fernandes and Van de Beek are the young and quick pairing of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. When fit, both of them had solid returns and came into form impressively for the team last season.
With a supporting cast containing players of the ilk of Mason Greenwood and balls whipping in from Aaron Wan-Bissaka, you can foresee United not having a problem putting the ball in the back of the net. Tick.
6. The not-so-goods
In recognising the positives, you don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to work out that my reservations for them are at the back, mostly in the spine of defence.
Like the Greek police, I have never been a fan of Harry Maguire as a footballer, predominantly because of his lack of agility in and around the box.
As the years roll on, it seems that David de Gea is more prone to clangers akin to Massimo Taibi but you can’t deny his CV of wonderful saves for them over the years. Do they balance out for the Red Devils’ fans moving forward? I’m not so sure. It may be time to introduce another formidable shot stopper similar to what Liverpool have done by bringing in Alisson a few years ago.
This is shaping up as an interesting season with the amount of transfer activity that has gone on and some of the exciting talent coming into the EPL this year (except for my Villa – one signing from Forest – sigh!).
If COVID behaves itself, my gut tells me that United will be sniffing around come May next year.
I hope I’m wrong!