This summer has a real sense of déjà vu about it. It recalls, specifically, the summers of 1995, 1998 and 2002. Every time Manchester United fail to win the Premiership title, they are written off, and whether it be Blackburn, Arsenal or Chelsea, the papers are full of talk of a new world order.
“Now hate us”, Arsene Wenger boldly ordered the English public, following his second title win with Arsenal in 2002, claiming that his side would go on to emulate United’s dominance of the English game. Of the following eight seasons, they won only one further title.
It is far too easy for people, whether it be the man on the street, or a well-informed pundit (y’know, someone like Ian Wright or that TalkSport fella who doesn’t know who Yaya Toure is) to look at the previous season, and say that they can’t see past a retention of the title.
United were, admittedly, poor last season: the solitary point by which they missed out on the title is misleading – Chelsea’s 86 points is the lowest total for the Premiership champions since United’s haul of 83 in 2002-03 (and that was down to Arsenal’s bottling it towards the end of the season). However, it is important to look at why.
Let’s not forget, for instance, that United had an extraordinary defensive injury crisis around Christmas time, a crisis that saw Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher line up in a back three at Craven Cottage: United lost 3-0 that day. At the same time, though, several points gained in the last minutes of games, saved United from losing out by a greater margin
How do the squads differ from last season? United have managed to hold on to almost their entire first team squad: only Ben Foster, third choice keeper by the end of the season, and Zoran Tošić, who made only two Premiership appearances for United, have left the club. Meanwhile, they have added Chris Smalling and Javier Hernández.
They are both players who are yet to prove themselves at this level, but Smalling will provide much needed cover at centre-back (as well as representing a prospect for the future) and Hernández has so far looked like a better Michael Owen. Some much needed fresh blood in midfield aside, and a bit of consistency at right-back, United’s squad is looking more solid than it has done for a while.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have cleared out some of their deadwood (alright, not deadwood, but certainly oldwood) by getting shot of Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and Juliano Belletti.
Only one first team player has joined Chelsea so far: 30-year old squad player Yossi Benayoun (although they are expected to sign the Brazilian holding midfielder, Ramires). They’ve lost an integral (and excellent, in my book) player in Michael Ballack, who may be getting old, but made 32 Premiership appearances last season.
And whatever you think of Joe Cole’s wage demands, he is a quality footballer and made 26 league appearances last season. Reserve players these are not (Belletti is the exception, making only 11 league appearances last season).
Chelsea to retain the title is certainly not outrageous: they are the only side other than United to do so in the Premiership era (in 2004-05 and 2005-06). For everybody to talk about Chelsea, though, suits United down to the ground; just like it did in 1995, 1998 and 2002. Write off United at your peril.
Who do you think will win the title? Perhaps 2011’s champions are not even been mentioned here?
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