Manchester United’s greatest weapon last season wasn’t Robin van Persie, despite the Dutchman leading the scoring charts and comfortably standing out as the club’s best player over the entire campaign. Instead, it was Alex Ferguson. There’s something about the Scot that forces panic and doubt into his foremost adversaries: Kevin Keegan, Rafa Benitez, Roberto Mancini (to name but a few).
Ferguson, like he’s done on so many occasions over the past 26 years, made the difference domestically last season, turning an average-to-good United side into Premier League champions. Van Persie made a difference from the prior season, yes. Rafael had his best campaign to date in English football. David De Gea turned his game around midway through the season when there were external calls for him to be dropped. It’s the kind of title-winning character that stems from the manager and his insatiable desire for more. Such is the house that Ferguson has built at Manchester United that no one will be forgiven for a lack of application; the type of attitude that can turn sides into champions.
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There’s a difference between depth and quality in depth. United have plenty of personnel to plug gaps, act as long-term stand-ins or simply make up the numbers on the bench, but where are the game changers and title deciders above van Persie? The depth is good at United, but the quality was provided from Ferguson’s expertise at winning countless league titles.
David Moyes doesn’t have that. Sure, there are many managers in the game who have risen to success at some stage over the past five years or so. The classic, go-to comparison is still Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund. There is obviously something special about the way the German takes to management, but there is no denying the incredible quality that runs through the team at Signal Iduna Park.
There are positives for Moyes this season. The fact is that United still have a couple of weeks to work with in strengthening the team, and Shinji Kagawa could and should take on a major role on the second time of asking. But based on what we’ve seen of this season’s Manchester United – which is admittedly very little with only one competitive game – Moyes will need to add quality to the depth he has at Old Trafford.
The frontrunners for the title this season are clearly the teams in Blue. Chelsea have Jose Mourinho, who in all of his previous leagues has offered instant title success, bar Spain. Manchester City, on the other hand, have Manuel Pellegrini, who, despite lacking in any major silverware in Europe, has one of the most enviable attacks in the game. He’s not a bad coach either.
Moyes, unlike his predecessor, doesn’t have the authority in the Premier League to turn losing positions into draws and draws into wins. As much as the football world may joke about Fergie Time, it is a massive bonus for the club to have. He might, though, let’s not get too far away from the possibility of Moyes picking up where Ferguson left off. But reality of the matter is the game has become that little bit harder for Manchester United.
Even in Manchester City’s title-winning season, Ferguson ran the eventual champions right down to the wire, leaving it to the final minutes of the last day to decide the champion. Van Persie played a major part in bringing the title back to Old Trafford, but you also feel that van Persie became a purchase to launch a sustained and successful assault on one more European Cup; Ferguson’s gift to himself when he finally took on the decision to retire.
There are no trophies, metaphorically speaking, for turning over a Championship team in the Community Shield. Manchester United looked tidy while never really hitting top gear. There was a sense of getting the job done but without any of the flair or brutality that should be associated with a title winner. In the face of an impressive and new-look twin challenge from Chelsea and Manchester City, this United side need more, something that gives them a dimension of unpredictability. Teams know where the majority of the goals are going to come from, but added quality throughout the side will give United a new edge. It’s a necessary compensation for the lack of a star-studded name in the dugout.
Are United lacking the quality throughout the squad to retain the league title this season?
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