Siao Mates Aug 12

Manchester United season preview: Red Devils could win the Premier League title. Here's why


 

The new English Premier League (EPL) football season which starts this weekend should be a very good one for Manchester United. 

 

Of course, every fan would believe the same for their team. But since every football fan and sportswriter thinks he’s a football expert with comprehensive knowledge of the inner workings of their team and opponents gleaned from Googling multiple sources, both official and orificial, I shall do the complete opposite and tell you that, somewhat unscientifically, I just feel that way. Let me explain.

 

1. Three-two-one
That’s not a formation, of course, but United’s progress. Or what I hope would be United’s progress this season from the one famous for the return to glory of their great rivals, Liverpool. While the Anfield outfit was destroying everything in their path towards their first top-flight title in forever only two seasons ago, United were written off early on in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first full season in charge, with some Liverpool fans even proclaiming the Norwegian their favourite United manager.

 

WATCH: Solskjaer speaks about getting a contract extension at United



By some miracle, however, Solskjaer managed to take United to third place, a marked improvement over the previous season’s sixth after he took over from Jose Mourinho in mid-season, and only the second time the Red Devils claimed a top-three finish since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. That remarkable achievement was, of course, completely overshadowed by Liverpool’s first Premier League title win, so much so that there were many United fans stupidly insisting that the league be cancelled on account of the coronavirus pandemic. This view of theirs had precious little to do with science or health – United fans were simply hoping to cancel a season in which their arch-rivals were unstoppable.

 

However, Liverpool fans’ favourite manager did one better last season, finishing second and above the defending champions, though Liverpool fans would be quick to point out that their side was depleted from very early on in the season, with the most notable injury being Virgil van Dijk’s season-ending leg breaker.

 

What was refreshing was that last season, United looked like they were enjoying themselves, despite a frustrating pre-season chasing the elusive signature of one horrendously overpriced Jadon Sancho. They won so many games from having conceded first that “United come from behind” could have been last season’s default headline for any match involving the Old Trafford side. They scored the second highest number of goals, making their fans wonder if all the pain of trying to recover Sancho from German side Borussia Dortmund was really necessary. Best of all, they finished on top of Liverpool, who were third and five points behind.

 

This new season, Solskjaer has managed to secure the services of Sancho, along with former Real Madrid centre-half Raphael Varane. Together, the two signings represent more than £100 million (S$188.2m). 

 

WATCH: Solskjaer provides updates on Sancho and Varane

 

So, would United be able to challenge for and win the Premier League title this season? They have to, if they intend to improve on last season’s showing. And with the amount spent recruiting Sancho and Varane, Solskjaer’s bosses would probably want a significant return on their investment. The fans, too, who will return to Old Trafford, will be expecting them to claim the title instead of merely making the top four. But can they do it?

While Solskjaer’s methods were a sorrowful mystery in the first full season he was in charge, and while the mystery remained through last season, though under much happier circumstances, I still have no idea what goes on in his head. I’m not sure Solskjaer himself does, although he appeared to show a lot more leadership and enthusiasm on the sidelines last season. Still, there are many who seem to think they need a bigger man than him to finally land United’s first EPL title since Sir Alex’s departure.

 

Manchester City, Chelsea and of course Liverpool are the teams that stand in the way of that happening. City and their fund manager Pep Guardiola will remain favourites, but it won’t be so easy this season. Chelsea, who are European champions, would probably be stronger in what could potentially be Thomas Tuchel’s first full season in charge if he doesn’t mess up too badly. And Liverpool, who will have their injury-riddled squad of last season mostly fit again, would want to put the horrors of last season behind them. However, I believe there’s a method to Solskjaer’s madness, and I’d love to see him shock us all by winning the Premier League title with United. 

Sancho and United’s scary strikeforce

Even without Sancho last season, United managed to be the second highest scoring team in the league, though they scored 10 times fewer than champions City. How many goals is Sancho worth? Probably more than 10. After a forgettable Euro 2020 where his only notable contribution was to come off the bench to miss a penalty in England’s loss to Italy on penalties in the Final, Sancho would want to show England what he’s really made of. He will have a lot to prove and he’d want to do it quickly. 

 

WATCH: Sancho's first interview as a United player

 

Marcus Rashford, currently resting from a shoulder operation, would want to do well, too, having also missed a penalty on that fateful night at Wembley Stadium. Then there’s Mason Greenwood, who is fast maturing. And Edinson Cavani, who doesn’t look like he knows how to slow down despite being 34. There’s also Anthony Martial, who’s fantastic – if and when he decides to show up. Sancho’s inclusion to the United frontline will be the critical difference, though, and with him, the United strikers would probably outgun the forwards of City, Liverpool and Chelsea. 

 

Raphael Varane and the reinforced back line

While the United strikeforce was No. 2 last season, their defence was the fifth lousiest. Sure, they came from behind a lot, but it was what was going on behind – their being tragically inept at dealing with set pieces – that put a strain on the rest of the team. The advent of Raphael Varane should address that gap. So instead of coming from behind like they had to so many times last season, they’d be able to stop their opponents from the back – to enhance their title-winning chances this season. 

 

WATCH: The best of Varane at Real Madrid

 

It’s coming home

After eight lean years and a series of managerial mismatches, United appear to have the personnel this season – along with a manager who seems to be improving every term – to finally mount a serious challenge for the title. The return of the Old Trafford faithful – starting with the Red Devils’ opening match against Leeds United on Saturday evening – should augur well for Solskjaer and his men. United fans would be quietly confident – and they’re rarely quiet – though they’d insist that Manchester City are the favourites for the title. Yes, I’ll admit it: I’d love to see United winning the title, and I have a feeling they would, or at least get as close to it as possible. 

 

Whatever it is, please, don’t wait 30 years to do it. 

 

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