Season preview: Manchester United
After dramatically losing out on the title to fierce rivals Manchester City, the Old Trafford outfit will be doing their utmost to prise back the trophy to the red side of the city. Despite flying out of the traps at the start of the 2011/12 season, recording convincing victories over Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, United struggled around the turn of the New Year, suffering surprising defeats to Blackburn and Newcastle.
An unexpected defeat away to Swiss side Basel in their final Champions League group stage game saw them exit at the first hurdle for only the third time under the reign of Sir Alex Ferguson. The game also saw captain Nemanja Vidic ruled out for the rest of the season after suffering cruciate ligament damage, which would prove a costly loss.
Despite this poor run of form, United, as it has done so many times in recent years, proved its class and determination with a string of fine performances in the second half of the season. United went on a 12-match undefeated streak and overtook City who had up until that point looked a clear favourite to take the title. After City suffered an away defeat to Arsenal, United looked to have taken an unassailable eight point lead in the title race.
However, United uncharacteristically seemed to be feeling the pressure, and came unstuck with defeat to relegation threatened Wigan, and was held to a home draw against Everton despite taking a 4-2 lead in the closing stages. These results, coupled with a late surge from City, led to one of the most anticipated Manchester derby’s in history. Vincent Kompany’s goal was enough to give City the vital three points and put them in a strong position to claim their first Premier League crown. Despite City needing two injury time goals to overcome QPR in its final league fixture, a game that fans of both sides will never forget, City went on to claim the trophy.
A trophy-less season for the Old Trafford outfit is something that everyone at the club will be looking to put right, and Sir Alex has begun the rebuilding process.
United fans have been crying out for a new central midfielder to join the ranks to work alongside the current crop of talent, and the signing of Japanese International Shinji Kagawa shows that United management agree on this area of weakness. United has been strongly linked with a move for a new left-back to provide competition for Patrice Evra, who at times struggled to perform consistently throughout the season. Leighton Baines has been linked, although it seems United is unwilling to match Everton’s asking price. However, Sir Alex has made moves to strengthen in attack where a deal for Arsenal hit-man Robin Van Persie has been agreed, as well as introducing young Chilean Angelo Henriquez.
With Dimitar Berbatov seemingly on his way out of Old Trafford, it would seem unlikely that there will be any further transfer activity.
United’s fortunes for the coming season will rest on how quickly its new arrivals and returning players such as Vidic and Cleverley can gel together. With the arrival of Van Persie, scoring goals and forward options will not be of concern to Sir Alex. However, there are still doubts concerning the fitness of his key centre-half duo of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. If those two can play the majority of games with the likes of Evans, Smalling and Jones filling in when needed, it would seem likely that United will push rivals Manchester City and big spending Chelsea right to the limit.
James Fuller, football correspondent