Since Sunday’s derby match between the Manchester clubs, the alarms have been sounding (louder than usual) from Manchester United supporters. Soccer pundits have been quick to throw water on the fire by saying it is still early in the season for fans to worry. While they also point out that this United team is still the current champions of England.
City not only beat United, they appeared hungrier and more focused. The only person who played with any purpose for United on Sunday was Wayne Rooney. The rest of the team went missing.
It is safe to say that City’s drive came from the way they performed last season. How they barely put up a fight while United took the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford. The City players would have spent the entire off season regretting their efforts and waiting for a chance to dish out some payback.
So the question has been raised by media outlets (after five league matches), “Could United miss out on the Top Four this season?”
As I mentioned earlier, most “experts” feel that United have too many returning players from a championship squad to let missing out on the Champions League happen. They feel that United will use their mystical powers and right their early season mishaps.
The danger in assuming this is that matches aren’t won solely on experience. There are numerous factors in winning.
Take last year’s Manchester City squad. Roberto Mancini said that he regretted not bringing in any new players to add to his title-winning squad. Despite winning the league, he was aware that his team needed to keep improving because the other clubs were going to step their efforts up in an effort to knock City off their perch. Mancini knew that some fresh, hungry blood was needed to improve on the team’s performance.
The end result was that City did not add any notable additions. And over the course of last season, players (i.e. Joe Hart) and the manager expressed that the team was not meeting expectations and had reached a level of complacency. The drive to regain their title was not there as it was the year before when they fought to wrestle the title from United… literally fighting to the last second of the last match of the season in order to win the league.
The end result of last season was that City was the only team who really presented any type of threat to United, and City were far behind them.
Fast forward to this season and look at United’s effort in the transfer market. Admittedly, United missed out on the key targets they aimed for. Most notably Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines, and now it has come to light, Gareth Bale (I won’t include Thiago Alcantara because both the player and his former club have stated that United never made an offer for him). The only additions have been Wilfried Zaha (who has yet to play in the league) and Marouane Fellaini.
Have United’s transfer market efforts led them to make the same mistake City made the year before?
Premier League clubs have not only bought during the transfer window, they now appear to have strengthened their first teams considerably. Manchester City have brought in Fernandinho (Shakhtar Donetsk), Jesus Navas (Sevilla), Alvaro Negredo (Sevilla), and Stevan Jovetic (Fiorentina).
Tottenham have by far done the most by bringing in Paulinho (Corinthians), Roberto Soldado (Valencia), Etienne Capoue (Toulouse), Erik Lamela (Roma), and Christian Eriksen (Ajax).
Chelsea now have Andre Schurrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Marco van Ginkel (Vitesse Arnhem), Willian (Anzhi Makhachkala), and Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi Makhachkala).
Arsenal added Yaya Sanogo (Auxerre), Mathieu Flamini (AC Milan), and of course Mesut Ozil (Real Madrid).
Other clubs such as Everton and Swansea have strengthened to their attractive brand of football by buying wisely in the market.
It appears that everyone has moved forward while United have stood still.
But United supporters need not worry, they are the reigning champions like City were last year.
There is a danger in assuming a reigning champion can “turn it on and off” when the pressure mounts. Although United’s roster is filled with players of a title-winning pedigree, they won those titles under very different circumstances each year.
It appears that any club trying to win the league or finish in the Top Four will really have to earn it this year. It can be argued that Arsenal and Chelsea have not vastly improved on their squads from last season. But they did qualify for the Champions League. On the other hand, Manchester City and Tottenham are vastly improved. And Tottenham missed out on the last Champions League spot on the final day of the season.
Would it be outrageous to think that this season’s Top Four would consist of these teams? What about Everton? Are they now in the position that Tottenham has been over the past few years? Are they the team who will really be pushing for that fourth or fifth place spot?
So could United miss out of the Top Four? The answer is yes.
Let’s see what happens over the next 33 games.