As if you need reminding, Manchester United are the reigning English champions after taking advantage of Chelsea’s extraordinary mid-season slump to take the title last season despite a relatively poor away record.
However, while they may have been victorious without being at their dominant best, they have fired a warning to their rivals by investing heavily and cleverly in new recruits. It will be the combination of these new arrivals and those that were already at the club that will determine their fate in the forthcoming campaign and we’ve picked out three players for whom this is a particularly big season:
With two exceptional wingers already at the club in Antonio Valencia and Nani, it was a little surprising to see Sir Alex Ferguson add the former Watford man to his ranks. But whether Young is posted regularly out wide remains to be seen.
The 26-year-old operated largely from the left on his debut against Manchester City in the FA Community Shield, allowing him to cut in onto his right foot, though it would not be a surprise to see him played more centrally in the role that he occupied at Villa Park last season especially if Wesley Sneijder does not arrive from Inter Milan before the end of the month. Having impressed for England in his recent appearances, there is no reason why he should not replicate that form at his new club but he will be playing in an environment where expectations are far greater than he has previously experienced and it will be interesting to see if he rises to the challenge.
David De Gea
As if arriving at one of the biggest clubs in the world at the tender age of 20 for £18m and being asked to fill the boots of one of the great goalkeepers of the modern era was not pressure enough, De Gea was then asked to make his debut on the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium against rivals Manchester City in front of 80,000 spectators and millions of television viewers.
Unfortunately, the Spanish youngster had a game to forget as he made a hasty decision not to come and claim the cross that led to Joleon Lescott’s opener, opting instead to dive into empty space. He followed that up by reacting late to Edin Dzeko’s (admittedly well-struck) shot to allow the ball to fly past him and give City a 2-0 lead. United came back to win on thsat occasion but he will not be so fortunate every week and needs to adjust quickly – something he is perfectly capable of doing – if he is not to join the likes of Massimo Taibi and Roy Carroll on the scrapheap of failed Old Trafford goalkeepers. Titles are never won by a team with a suspect custodian and his performances will be inextricably linked to the team’s fortunes.
Central midfield – according to learned observers – is supposedly United’s Achilles heel. Nevermind that they largely controlled proceedings in each of their three matches against Chelsea at the end of last season or were dominant throughout their Champions League campaign until they came up against Xavi, Iniesta and co in the final, United have a soft centre.
However, with Paul Scholes retired, Ryan Giggs not getting any younger and Darren Fletcher still recovering from a debilitating virus, options are certainly looking a little thin. Lucky, then, that they have a Brazil international to introduce into the mix. The problem is that Anderson has shimmered without really shining in a red shirt. The talent is obvious and his class apparent but the ability to boss games has largely eluded him. He has been a Red Devil for four years now and at 23 years of age should be starting to impose himself on matches. Should he take up the challenge, he will fully justify the faith that Ferguson has shown in him though the feeling persists that this is a make or break season for the former FC Porto star.