Despite a mixed bag of results to date, including a disappointing draw at Bolton Wanderers today, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side remains one of two unbeaten teams in the Premier League. Even including late failures at Fulham and Everton, and turgid stalemate with Rangers, it has still been a decent start from the Scot’s side this season.
Although last week’s rout over Scunthorpe United is not the greatest litmus test of the side’s ambitions this season, it demonstrated if proof were needed, that this season’s team has a wealth of goalscoring options. That may not have always been the case at United and will serve the club well this season.
Ferguson’s squad includes five front-line strikers – Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Owen, Javier Hernández, Federico Macheda – all of whom are pushing for regular starting berth. Not even the Real Madrid can boast that kind of strength in depth up-front.
That said, the most obvious deficiency within the current side is a lack goal scoring midfielder. Paul Scholes’ deeper role and Tom Cleverley’s season-long loan to Wigan Athletic have left United short. The injuries to Antonio Valenica and Ryan Giggs have only compounded the problem.
On a more promising note the return of Anderson adds to Ferguson’s options. The flickering embers of the Brazilian’s talent may just grown bright once more. Certainly Ferguson will hope that he will finally become the player United hoped he would when shelling out £17 million three years ago.
On his return against Scunthorpe, Anderson took on the midfield anchor role, with his passing generally consistent. Although the 20-year-old did not play against Bolton today, Ferguson will surely bring the former Porto player back into the fold sooner rather than later.
Ferguson’s new signings have not had a dramatic impact on the side to date but each remains promising.
Recent evidence suggests that Chris Smalling is, in fact, not so appauling. The acquisition from Fulham looks a smart buy following a strong and composed display against Scunthorpe on Wednesday. In the 20-year-old’s two games against Rangers and the Lincolnshire side to date he has shown more than a passing reminiscence of Rio Ferdinand. Keeping the England captain at close quarters can only be a good ploy for the youngster.
Meanwhile, ‘Chicharito’ is yet to fully settle. At times the striker has appeared to struggle with the physicality of the English game despite his promising display in the Community Shield. It’s hardly a surprise but the 21-year-old Mexico international may already have fallen down the pecking order.
An indifferent display against Fulham was followed up by a woeful performance against Rangers, when Ferguson pushed the striker into an unfamiliar wide position. Indeed, against Scunthorpe Chicharito failed to truly assert himself on the home side’s backline, and often looked lost when defending in wide areas.
More intriguing of the three, the now infamous Bébé has a ‘touch of the Ronaldos’ about him on the evidence of his cameo against Scunthorpe. The Portuguese may yet prove the resurrection of Carlos Queiroz’ reputation. Bébé’s direct approach, coupled with his immense physical stature and blistering pace will no doubt trouble even the very best of defences in time.
One of the more promising aspects of the new season is United’s attacking style. Ferguson has once again got his side back to playing the mouth-watering football we also associate with many great United teams. The return of 4-4-2 may have helped, although the rejuvenation of Dimitar Berbatov and excellence of (Sir) Paul Scholes is central to United’s attacking play.
Ferguson’s appointment of Nemanja Vidic as captain could also prove a masterstroke this season, as the Scot attempts to create a more settled side that in the recent past. With Vidic often linked with a move abroad, the captaincy could help the Serbian focus on the job at hand as one of the club’s most senior players.
Yet today’s result with Bolton also highlighted the major fault with the team – defensive lapses that have cost seven goals in three away Premier League games, including two very late draws. United can ill afford for it to continue this trend and perhaps only the return – and consistent fitness – of Ferdinand can eradicate the problem.
Despite the draws on the road United remains second in the table, is through to the fourth round of the Carling cup and is still favourites to top Champions league Group C.
Sterner tests lie ahead than of course. Certainly tougher than the remarkably weak Liverpool side that United crushed last weekend. The next big test sees United travel to the Mestalla on Wednesday to face Valencia, La Liga’s surprise package.