Manchester United Season Preview 2013-14
The new Barclays Premier League season is about to commence in unthinkable fashion for Manchester United players and fans. Yes. No more Sir Alex Ferguson in the United hot seat.
When the 71-year-old announced his retirement in May in such unpredictable fashion after 27 years as Old Trafford boss, the entire football world realised it had to come to terms with an end of an era.
And what a long 27 years they have been as he has transformed a team in the relegation zone to a European giant.
In came another Scot, David Moyes. The 50-year-old was hand-picked by Sir Alex.
One of the greatest and longest-serving football managers ever seen most famously ordered Red Devils fans to support their new manager during his emotional farewell speech at Old Trafford.
Moyes did a solid job at Everton despite not winning any silverware in his memorable eleven-year spell.
The third longest-serving manager in the Premier League after Fergie and Arsene Wenger, the former Preston North End boss transformed a relegation side into a consistent Europa and UEFA Champions League contender, all with a tight budget.
However, everyone including Moyes knows what a challenging task he has ahead of him.
Some may view his appointment as a win-win for both club and manager.
United have gotten a man as tough and confident as Fergie who is not expected to upset the club’s formidable infrastructure which has been carefully planned and built in style by the best British manager of all-time.
In a nutshell, the junior Scot is someone United hope to groom into a great rather than vice versa.
As for Moyes, he gets the golden chance to manage a big club and grow in it having proven his ability at Preston and Everton already.
Replacing a legend in charge for almost three decades is bound to have its side-effects. Man Utd are no exception.
Firstly, issues propped up during the coaching reshuffle. Then came the Wayne Rooney saga, one which started while Fergie was still around but got worse when Moyes touched down.
Assistant manager Mike Phelan and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele were asked to leave while famous head coach, Dutchman Rene Muelensteen turned down the offer to become assistant to eventually take over as manager of high-profile Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala after initially joining them as an assistant to Guus Hiddink (the latter left two games into the new Russian season while the former was sacked after just sixteen days as manager).
Everton coaches Steve Round, Jimmy Lumsden and Chris Woods replaced Phelan, Muelensteen and Steele respectively.
Former United and Everton veteran Philip Neville hung up his boots and returned as a coach while evergreen Welshman Ryan Giggs became player-coach.
Rooney’s alleged transfer request and Chelsea’s interest in the England star have dominated headlines this summer.
United maintain their prized asset is not for sale with Moyes once again confirming this at the end of the league champions’ Community Shield win on Sunday.
However, it has to be noted that both men fell out publicly as early as nine years ago during their time together at Everton when Rooney was signed by United after Euro 2004.
There is a growing feeling the 27-year-old will not be a Red Devil come 1 September.
On the transfer front, other than Wilfried Zaha who was signed by Fergie in January, United’s inability to bring in a top quality senior player could point to players’ hesitance in joining a club going through a big managerial change.
The pursuit of Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini have yet to yield any success with Fabregas recently all but confirming his decision to stay with Barcelona.
Talk of Cristiano Ronaldo returning was exciting but nothing happened there as well.
But with Chelsea being stubborn in their chase for Rooney even admitting their willingness to go till the last day of the transfer window if required, it could be that Moyes is holding out for a good price for the player he once groomed as a teenager before making that all-important capture.
After all, this is a man known for his shrewd dealings in the transfer market although we must not forget that Man Utd are no Everton. Expectations are a lot higher at the Theatre of Dreams.
Whatever unfolds in the coming days, it has been a challenging pre-season for the new boss and expectedly so.
If pre-season friendlies are anything to go by, United have been far from convincing.
Midfield has been the Red Devils’ achilles heel for a few years now.
Failure to get a permanent replacement for Paul Scholes has been frustrating with the 38-year-old now having retired for good.
Good news is Moyes has openly addressed thist and is trying to find a solution. Bad news? All efforts have been in vain so far.
Solutions may lie within the club though, that is if Shinji Kagawa can excel in a deeper midfield role.
Fans got to see just flashes of the Japanese star’s quality last season, thanks to injuries and Fergie’s preference of out-and-out wingers.
Kagawa’s three goals against Norwich in the Red Devils 4-0 win made him the first Asian to score a hat-trick in the Premier League.
Youngster Nick Powell could be an outsider for the role as well. Signed from Crewe Alexandra last season, the starlet has not featured much but scored a beauty of a goal against Wigan on his United debut in the league.
All said and done, it will be worrying if a marquee signing is not made by 31 August.
It will be interesting to see if Wilfried Zaha can cement himself a regular place ahead of Antonio Valencia, Nani or Ashley Young, something that seems quite possible at the moment.
Valencia had a disappointing campaign while fans are losing patience with Nani’s inconsistency.
Ashley Young’s injury problems have prevented him from reproducing the form he had shown at Aston Villa.
Having said all that, Crystal Palace to Man Utd is some jump for a youngster like Zaha.
When the going gets tough the tough get going. Fans will hope Zaha gets going. His pre-season form has been promising.
In midfield, a brilliant 2012-13 as an anchorman suggests Phil Jones will be a crucial player provided he stays injury-free. The former Blackburn man’s versatility as also an asset.
As mentioned already, a lot more is expected of Kagawa. The Old Trafford faithful are looking forward to watching the Kagawa who starred for Borussia Dortmund.
United badly need his brilliance especially if Rooney leaves.
Top scorer Robin Van Persie needs to carry on doing what he does best, score goals.
30 or more goals again and they would be exactly what his club needs.
Predicting how Unted will fare this season is unusually tough for obvious reasons.
Every move and mistake of new boss David Moyes will be under the spotlight.
More friction and problems with both current and prospective players may arise.
One thing we know for sure. He is a tough cookie.
Also, not many doubt Fergie’s judgement.
The league title may be a big ask in his first season but the solid foundation, culture and the fact that Fergie is monitoring progress from his new director’s role mean we can expect a decent finish within the top three with a domestic cup triumph to go with it.
Any less could mean Moyes’ United journey ending prematurely.
But, superstitious fans would say that Manchester United with a Scottish manager is a marriage made in heaven. Sir Matt Busby, Tommy Docherty and Sir Alex Ferguson are all Scots.
Finally, strong competition will be posed by Manchester City and Chelsea so I do not think United will defend their Barclays Premier League title successfully.
Prasanna Krishnan’s 2013-14 prediction: 2nd