Friday, 7 August 2015

LUNCH AT OLD TRAFFORD


Excitement or Nerves? Maybe a bit of both. Personally I'd say a lot of both! On the occasion of the start of the new premier league season, a day when everyone is optimistic, Manchester United are first in front of the cameras, in their new Adidas kit, at lunchtime on Saturday for the visit by Tottenham Hotspur.

The build-up:
United last played a game of football on July 30th but there has been a behind-closed doors match earlier this week. We understand now that the match was comprised solely of United players and that Louis van Gaal selected the Starting XI for Saturday on the one side and the one that wouldn't start on the other. From journalists close to the club, it's also understood that the problematic right-sided centre-back position which he flagged problematic at the end of the PSG game will be awarded to Chris Smalling and not Phil Jones because of the latter's poor display in the PSG match.

On the injury front, and any last minute announcements at the pre-match presser on Friday permitting, United have a clean bill of health ahead of Saturday. To put into perspective, United went into last season's opener with Swansea missing up to 9 players, forcing the manager to hand Tyler Blackett, Jesse Lingard and Patrick McNair their club debuts!

The Match:
Of all the season predictions going around ahead of the new campaign, United's is the most tricky to get right. Such is the delicate poise around Louis van Gaal's squad that predictions border from wildly successful to a shambles in certain departments of the team. For starters, few inside Old Trafford itself are certain about who will line-up in goal for the Red Devils on Saturday. Shall we see the 'unfocused' David De Gea or shall the manager root for new signing Sergio Romero, who is untested in the premier league but comes with a wealth of experience at International level.

Further ahead, Daley Blind will start at left centre-half, a selection that, despite attracting concerns over pre-season, will remain responsible for half the nerves fans will endure ahead of kick-off on Saturday. His partner will in all probability be Chris Smalling, together, forming the most unconvincing aspect of United's squad at the moment. Still, Louis van Gaal has surprised many with faith in his options, but whilst the transfer window remains open, the scrutiny of United's rearguard shall be unrelenting. The cynic in me feels that this is the one area where Louis van Gaal wants to prove us all wrong, just as he has done over the years on many occasions in his illustrious career.

The Opposition:
Tottenham Hotspur are in a bit of a mare at the moment. They were a victim of the television schedule when BT Sport selected their trip to Old Trafford as the midday kickoff after a week in Germany partaking the Audi Cup. Pochettinho thought he had solved that problem with a late flight back home on Wednesday night but they were told, whilst in Munich, that they couldn't get on a flight until Thursday afternoon. It means Spurs will have been in England for just 24hrs when they board another flight up north to Manchester on the Friday. It's hardly the preparation ahead of a season-opener but they will have been served up well by the rotation of the squad in the Germany.

The Sub-Plots:
At the start of the transfer window, there was money staked on which side Spurs duo Harry Kane and Hugo Lloris would line up on Saturday. Nothing seems to have changed on that front and so the bookies should keep a lot of their money. Lloris made a return from his injury on Wednesday to feature as a substitute in the Audi Cup against AC Milan. Of the two, (and if he starts) he'll be the one most eager to impress a watching eye or two at Old Trafford.

The biggest attraction from the fans' point of view should be the club debuts for new signings Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin Bastian Shweinsteiger and Memphis Depay. Of the lot, much will be expected of the latter because of the apparent concern about United's goal-getters this season. His partnership with Wayne Rooney has looked impressive in terms of understanding while on tour and now its time to deliver an early verdict in an environment when it really matters. Also, it will be interesting whether manager goes with the 'Schmidfield' or tempers one of them with Michael Carrick. Certainly, there's still a lot to learn about combinations and triangles of the new midfield set-up.

There is a feeling that all, if not most of United's transfer business can thrive in the league and therefore add something to what we already had last season. If that turns out to be the case, Louis van Gaal's summer business, above everything else, could be the reason why he seems to be reading from a different script in terms of additions to his side.

Last Time Out:
Spurs were in the unfortunate position of being the first victims of United's renaissance under Louis van Gaal last season. Unsuspectingly, they came out to attack United in an open contest seeking to build on their consecutive wins at the M16. By the end of the first half, the result was not in doubt. United stormed to a 3-0 lead with goals from Marouanne Fellaini (after the cameras played a trick on us and speeded up his acceleration), Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney.

More of the same would just about get us to the perfect start ahead of a fixture-filled August month. Asking too much? Not I think!

The Bottom Line:
Last term, Manchester United were given an easy ride from all concerned because the season hinged on a mere return to the Champions League. For Louis van Gaal and indeed for Manchester United, the grace period is over. Expectations are not yet at peak level but given the resources on which the club built its success in the Sir Alex Ferguson era, the figures invested in the current crop warrant an immediate return on investment if only to prove to the supporters and the Board that the club is heading in the right direction.

One of the steps in that direction was to make Old Trafford a fortress once again. It should therefore be a matter of expectation that the club shall win just about every home game. Such are the standards if you intend to challenge for a league title!

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