Saturday, November 24, 2007

Season Summaries--2. Manchester United

2. Manchester United (My preseason prediction: 1st)

The first two months of the season couldn't have been anything less than a nightmare for Manchester United fans. After winning the Community Shield against Chelsea, last year's FA Cup winner, to start the year on a high note, injuries (Wayne Rooney, Owen Hargreaves, Michael Carrick) and suspensions (Cristiano Ronaldo) had a significant impact on the defending champions and they couldn't get any continuity going. United's first seven games of the season all ended either 1-0 or 1-1, and not being able to score goals has never been a trademark of Sir Alex Ferguson's managerial style; his teams usually play with an up-and-down, attacking flair. The Red Devils started the year off with two draws and a loss in their first three league games and people (as they usually do) started reading too much into early season results and wrote this team off.

United have gotten healthier and more in sync as the season has gone on and their results bear this out. They are 4-0-0 in their Champions League group so far and since that early loss at Manchester City, United have gone 9-1-0 in the Premiership. There was a four-game stretch in which they scored 4 goals each game and in fact, they've scored 4 goals in 5 out of their last 7 matches in all competitions, including a dominating 4-1 win at Aston Villa. The high-flying theatrics should continue as well as their next three Premiership matches are against Bolton, Fulham, and Derby.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez are by far the best striking tandem in the Premiership, and I personally believe they're the best in Europe as well. The way these two play off each other and can find one another inside the opponent's penalty area is amazing; most importantly, their finishing ability is second to none. Cristiano Ronaldo is having another Player of the Year-type season with 6 goals from midfield in his 9 Premiership starts, and that doesn't even take into account the pinpoint crosses and through balls he's become known for in the past few seasons.

Unlike Arsenal, Manchester United have had a fairly difficult schedule and actually have played some teams that aren't in the bottom half of the table. They picked up a point at Portsmouth (an accomplishment considering Cristiano Ronaldo got sent off in the second half and Rooney wasn't even healthy enough to play), thrashed Villa 4-1, beat Chelsea 2-0, beat Blackburn 2-0, beat Everton 1-0, and drew with Arsenal 2-2 in a game where they were the better team for the full 90 minutes. When United are in form, which they are now, they can beat anyone on the continent and not only will they win the Premiership this season, they have as good a chance as any team to win the Champions League. Their only disappointment of the season came when they lost to Coventry City at home 2-0 in the Carling Cup, but fewer games to play is a blessing for United as they already have a packed schedule and a roster that isn't the most immune to injury. If they stay healthy, this team can pull off the Treble again.

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