England's tribal football clashes are back
As good as the Euro 2012 was sometimes; as good(ish) as the football event at the London 2012 Olympics was; there is nothing to compare with the anticipation of the new Premier League season.
Every committed football fan will tell you that they cannot actually tell you exactly why one looks forward to these coming nine months of whirlwind emotions.
The last day of last season was emotionally incredible for me and I doubt if it can ever be matched again – but then again back in ’89, nobody who was at Anfield as George Graham’s Arsenal came and prised the then First Division title from Liverpool’s fingers ever thought there would be a last day to match it.
So that, in a nutshell, is probably what makes this game we love so much so unpredictable. It is also probably why outsiders can’t understand why we make so much fuss about what we invariably can’t influence. Ha! I have influenced many matches from my living room I have convinced myself of that….. or while I have been at the ground. Trust me, you can’t prove otherwise, so we carry on!
MANCHESTER CITY: I have been impressed by the champions’ lack of activity in the transfer market as I think it will mean that there are not too many players needing to be assimilated with the risk of upsetting the balance.
As the red half of Manchester know very well, it is always the first title to win that is difficult. It CAN become easier as the course is known by the players and manager and there is less pressure to deliver. What will test the squad the most this season is the desire to conquer Europe and win the Champions League.
It is too tough in England to manage this very well and only Manchester United have reached the Champions League final in the same season they have won their domestic league. Manager Roberto Mancini, along with his new five-year contract is in powerful position to deal with any player revolt.
Carlos Tevez needs no one to tell him now that he is no longer the lynchpin of the side so has to fall in line or close the door behind him as he leaves. If there is one area in which City probably needs strengthening it might be another quality centre-back. Kolo Toure and the Serb Savic are suspect for when Kompany or Lescott are out. Richards is a better centre-back than he is a full-back so he is good cover for that position in any case.
In midfield they will rely a lot on the power of Yaya Toure. He had a monstrous season last season and drove the team on during the closing stages with vital goals. He needs to remain fit for long periods if City are to prosper. The challenge facing the Champions this season will be how to play teams who will be content to sit back and just defend and hope to catch them on the break.
City/Mancini’s preferred formation is the 4-2-1-3 formation with two holding midfielders, which guarantees safety for his team first, in the belief that the talent of the front three can prise open defences. He also places a lot of emphasis on the full-backs providing the width and in Kolarov/Clichy on the left and the excellent Zabaleta/Richards on the right. They have four of the best attacking full-backs in the league no matter the combo used.
With Sergio Aguero having adapted well in his first season, the City squad will start with a lot of confidence to retain their crown. It is their title to lose.
MANCHESTER UNITED: In my view, the Manchester United team of the last two seasons are the most un-coached side in the top five of the Barclays Premier League. You just watch United play and you get the feeling that they just chose the “best” players for each position and toss them out to go and play.
A simple analysis of United will show you that they are probably the only top team in Europe who play 4-4-2 formation with two proper out and out wingers with chalk on their studs. In EVERY match you watch United are always out-numbered in central midfield with their two having to compete against the opposition four.
Without Darren Fletcher Manchester United have no ball winner in midfield. It is therefore curious that of the two players the club were chasing going into the start of the league none was a ball winning central midfielder – Van Persie of Arsenal and the Brazilian wide player Lucas.
Nani, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney, Hernandez, Welbeck and Antonio Valencia are superbly talented players with different gifts good enough to win more matches than they will draw or lose, however it is the lack of central midfield options that is galling.
The hype around Tom Cleverly is even more mystifying. Cleverly is a good player. He is not a ball winner, neither is he a play maker, so he is really not what the team needs. Anderson has been a major disappointment in that he is hardly ever fit all through a football season.
All of these make the mountain of work that Michael Carrick has to get through go unnoticed by his critics. The Geordie is as good as Xabi Alonso in my book. However, unlike the Spaniard, who has always had a ball winner around him so he can get on with the more important creative work, Carrick has to play alongside an over the hill Paul Scholes or Ryan Giggs and so he does as much defending as he has to do creatively because these two veterans can hardly race around anymore.
It is shocking that Manchester United’s manager has allowed this central midfield problem to fester for so long and the return to the conventional 4-4-2 formation. It is a testament to the quality of the players that the team drove City close and but for the draw with Everton at home would have even won the league. If United do not change tactically they might struggle to finish in the top three this season.
I will continue more clubs later in the week. You can follow me on twitter @CalvinEmeka