Alex Ferguson and Man United venture into the “land of opportunity” as they begin their 20-day long tour of the United States of America. The American audiences have, in recent times, begun to embrace the game they call “soccer” and with the Red Devils in town for a second consecutive year, the stock of the game of football is higher than it has ever been. United’s much despised American owners would be the ones raking in all the moolah as Ferguson’s side prepares for yet another grueling campaign.
Nevertheless, this pre-season tour provides a window of opportunity for a number of players to strengthen their case, and for a few to make their first impression on the manager’s psyche. The grand old man of United is a veteran of these pre-season tours and he could use this three-weeks long expedition as the basis for separating the wheat from chaff. The gaffer might also decide if further inroads in the transfer market are required, or on the contrary, he might shut shop if he is convinced by the players he has at his disposal.
The Itinerary is as follows:
1. New England Revolution v Manchester United – 13 July 2011 (Gillette Stadium)
2. Seattle Sounders v Man Utd – 20 July 2011 (Beaverton, Oregon)
3. Chicago Fire v Man Utd – 23 July 2011 (Wrigley Field)
4. Man Utd vs MLS All Stars – 27 July 2011 (Red Bull Arena in New Jersey)
5. Man Utd vs FC Barcelona – 30 July 2011 (Washington D.C.)
The pre-season party travelling to the US was announced a couple of days ago and there were hardly any surprises.
Goalkeepers: Anders Lindegaard, Ben Amos, Sam Johnstone
Defenders: Rafael, Fabio, Nemanja Vidic, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Rio Ferdinand
Midfielders: Michael Carrick, Nani, Anderson, Ryan Giggs, Ji-sung Park, Gabriel Obertan
Forwards: Mame Biram Diouf, Federico Macheda, Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Dimitar Berbatov, Ashley Young.
The likes of Chris Smalling, Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley, David de Gea, Phil Jones and Javier Hernandez will join the tour later as they have all been involved in competitive games after the season owing to the U-21 Euro Championships as well as the Gold Cup.
The other notable absentees from the touring party include Darren Fletcher, Darren Gibson and Tomas Kuszczak.
For Fletcher, the air of his absence was cleared by the United spokesperson:
“Darren will remain at Carrington to undergo an individualised conditioning programme given he missed a large proportion of last season.This will help him catch up fitness-wise to the levels of the rest of the team. We tried to accelerate things but we want to give him the best opportunity to be fully fit for the new season. We feel a reduction in the amount of time Darren spends travelling will help him achieve this.”
For United’s perennial underachievers – Gibson and Kuszczak – the end seems to be near now. Gibson hasn’t cut it at United and his departure isn’t going to be treated with surprise or sorrow. In fact, certain sections of the United faithful would be pleased to see the back of the Irishmen. PIG as he is known in United circles must have known that he was living on borrowed time as Fergie has brought in not one but two specialist shot stoppers to the Theatre of Dreams.
For the others who have made the cut, the position of some hangs by the thread while for some others this is a chance to figuratively step up to the plate.
Let’s analyze a few candidates, for whom these next twenty days will be 20 days of reckoning!
David De Gea has been awarded the United #1 and its seems evident that the Spanish prodigy will be entrusted with the mammoth task of filling in the gigantic boots of Van Der Sar. However, Lindegaard has the chance of making his mark as the Danish International will be the first choice shot stopper on the tour as De Gea will join the party at a later date. Can Lindegaard grab his chance and may be give Sir Alex some food for thought?
Experienced campaigners, John O’Shea and Wes Brown, have left the club after several years of dedicated service, the onus is on the young brigade to carry the baton. Phil Jones, the young and promising English defender has been added to United’s rear guard and with the emergence of Chris Smalling, the competition for places is steeper than ever before. Evans did not impress much in the last campaign and the fans were quick to jump on his back after a few high-profile goof ups. Johnny boy needs to get back to the exploits of two seasons ago and the promise needs to be realized quickly.
The curious case of Anderson and the enigma of a United supporter who watches his enormous potential going unrealized! The Brazilian has now had four seasons with the Red Devils, patches of which he has been magical and others infuriating to say the least. This pre-season will be Ando’s first with the squad and provides him a chance to get his bearings right.
For the first time in a long time, the Brazilian has managed to stay away from injury during the close season and he must make it count. Paul Scholes has left the stage and Anderson is now one of the experienced central midfielders in the squad along with Carrick, Fletcher and the imperious Ryan Giggs. Ando was largely excellent at home last season, putting in some memorable performances and was at the heart of most United offences. Yet, the Brazilian was almost anonymous on the away trips and his season was easily distinguishable into two halves, the one at Old Trafford where he excelled and the other where he flattered to deceive. Time for some Samba magic and hopefully, the most awaited coming of age of one of Old Trafford’s most loved characters.
The French winger from Bordeux has had limited opportunity at Old Trafford, but Obertan hasn’t really set the pulse racing in his brief appearances for the club. With Ashley Young’s arrival and the presence of other premier options on the wing in the form of Nani and Valencia, the man from Bordeux might never get a better chance to impress the manager. He simply cannot fail and must put all his apparent shakiness behind him.
Mame Biram Diouf
The Senegalese was on loan to Blackburn and performed reasonably. It is, however, difficult to envisage a slot for Diouf in the United squad as there is certainly no dearth of talent in the striking department at Old Trafford. Diouf will get his chance but might not make the cut and could be loaned out yet again or even sold.
Macheda burst on to the scene with that goal against Villa at the Stretford end, he hasn’t since managed to match up to the expectations. Macheda’s loan spell at Sampdoria wasn’t really a runaway success either; still Ferguson has showed faith in the young Italian as his talent is beyond doubt. Macheda’s problem has been his inconsistency when starting games although he often manages to make an impact off the bench as he did last season against Villa, once again. Chicharito stole a march on Macheda last season with his phenomenal debut season. Macheda needs to respond to the challenge. On his heels is another young prospect in the form of Danny Welbeck and the duo could possibly fight it out for the last birth in the striking department.
Tom’s loan stint at Wigan was quite a success and he raked in great reviews from the Latics faithful. Cleverley’s Euro campaign with the Young Lions was however not that inspiring as the young Englishmen continued the trend of their illustrious seniors by failing in a major World Competition. Cleverley was present on United’s last tour to the States and despite impressing in his limited appearances, he couldn’t force a way into the first team squad.
However, the scenario is much more favorable this time around as the Ginger Wizard has called it a day and Hargreaves was also released by the club. There is definitely a spot open in the United midfield waiting for someone to grab it by the proverbial scruff of the neck. The only problem for Cleverley seems to be his apparent inability to play in a two-man midfield that is favoured at United. His primary attributes seem to be more suited for an attacking midfield position on the whole or on the left wing. We’ll have to wait and see what exactly Ferguson has on mind for this young English talent
For the management, there are some areas that they might look to exploit in the upcoming games on the tour.
United’s new acquisition on the offensive front has been handed over the famous number 18 jersey after the legendary Paul Scholes. Primarily a winger, Young can play on either wing as well as in the hole behind the front man. Ferguson could look to exploit his versatility and also find a way to accommodate the talents of Valencia, Nani and Young in the same eleven. Ferguson could look to play Rooney as the lone man upfront with Young in the hole and Nani and Valencia on either wing. A front four of Rooney-Young-Nani-Valencia provides an intriguing proposition for fans and the gaffer alike, since there is awe-inspiring pace to burn and possibly a recipe for a great counter-attacking game. Perhaps, a return to those memorable days of season 2006-07 when United where at their swashbuckling best?
SAF would also like to try out his various centre-back combinations keeping in mind the likes of Smalling, Jones and Evans, as we have noted in the past some combinations work better than the others.
On the whole, these five games provide a plethora of opportunities for the young guns to bust from their cocoons as well as the old warriors to sharpen their armor. No game is ever a meaningless exercise and certainly not when the master is planning an overhaul of his army. The old nemesis will be in town too, as the last of the games on the trip. Pep Guardiola and FCB are the team to beat in Europe and two months on since the humbling at the Wembley Arena, United will once again look to measure themselves against the current masters of the beautiful game.