The following blog is quite long and I had to stagger delivery due to the fact that I do actually have a job and don’t ramble on a blog all day long. If you spot any facts that are incorrect or have seen any mistakes – don’t forget to highlight them in the comments or you may wish to comment in the rivals watch thread on the forum.
Winning the first Premier League title back in 1993 was hard enough, but retaining it was some feat in 1994 – along with the clubs first ever double. Fast forward 15 years and United are the proud winners of back to back titles and another European Cup to add to the two previously won in 1968 and 1999. Obviously this red wants to win it all; the Community shield, league cup, FA Cup, Super Cup, Club World Cup and retain the Premier League and Champions League trophies. The 2007/08 team achieved the perfect formula for success; scoring lots of goals whilst conceding very few. United built this formula using four very intricate versatile footballers in attack (Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Park/Nani/Giggs) whilst finding the perfect center back pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand. Previous blog entries have looked at who United might bring in for the new season – this entry will take a look at our rivals and mark out their main strengths and weaknesses. Any comments from Reds or from other fans of those clubs in question will be most welcomed as we welcome the new season:
Arsenal - Expect the Gunners to be stronger than last year but to retain their pass and move fluency that impressed at Old Trafford last term. Losing Adebayor would be a big loss due to the impressive form of the Togo front man and being the leading goal scorer at Arsenal. However, most Arsenal fans would welcome a £32 Million bid for a player that cost 10% of that fee. If Arsenal can strengthen their right side of midfield (either with an impressive season from Walcott or from potential signing Nasri) and get some center back cover (Senderos cost them at important times last season) then expect a big challenge from them. Although Wenger and Sir Alex tend not to participate in many mind games nowadays the rivalry is still very strong and will want to out do one another by playing an attacking, fluent brand of football.
United play Arsenal on: 8th November 2008 (a), 16th May 2009 (h)
Star man: Cesc Fabregas
Aston Villa – Not won at Old Trafford in years (since 1983) and last beat United at Villa Park in 1995 (the famous ‘You’ll never win it with kids game’) and I don’t expect that to change this season. The inevitable sale of Gareth Barry to Liverpool will be a massive loss although if O’Neill manages to secure the £18Million he is after then expect a number of decent players coming in over the summer. Will most likely play a 4-5-1 against us with Young and Agbonlahor providing pace down the flanks with Carew the lone front man. Potential signings for Villa are Steve Sidwell and Paul Robinson.
United play Aston Villa on: 22nd November 2009 (a), 4th April 2009 (h)
Star man: Ashley Young
Blackburn Rovers - Paul Ince can expect a ‘warm’ reception back at Old Trafford for the first time as a manager after impressing at MK Dons this season. Ince has inherited a good squad from Mark Hughes and will want to keep hold of Roque Santa Cruz, who was an instant hit at Ewood Park last season. David Bently has expressed a desire to leave and play in the Champions League – with Liverpool being the only real destination for the talented young Englishman. Ince will again want to keep Bently, who although has impressed in the past two seasons, is a way off yet being the player that the press often make him out to be (mainly due to the fact that they want him to replace Beckham in the England setup). United got four points off Blackburn last season and expect an equally tricky time next season at Ewood park – that is if Friedel is in goal.
United play Blackburn on: 4th October 2008 (a), 21st February 2009 (h)
Star man: Roque Santa Cruz
Bolton Wanderers - Gary Megson’s side beat the drop last season after a victory over Roy Keane’s Sunderland and the manager will be pleased that he proved a number of doubters wrong. Bolton turned over a weakened United side at the Reebok after a Nickolas Anelka strike, which was a result of a missed header from Pique. Ronaldo scored twice at home to secure the three points. Bolton have spent earlier in the summer bringing in the battling midfielder Fabrice Muamba and the once teenage prodigy Johan Elmander. Both are physical players that will aid their victory for survival. Both games next season will be a battle for United however six points is expected.
United play Bolton on: 27th September 2008 (h), 17th January 2009 (h)
Star man: Kevin Nolan
Chelsea - The beaten finalists in the Champions league and runners up in the Premier League race, Chelsea will come back stronger than ever next season. Having purchased both Bosingwa and Deco either side of the appointment of ‘big Phil’ Scolari, Chelsea will mean business this season and be a major threat to United’s challenge to retain both trophies. Scolari has also been touting after Brazilian forward Robinho, who was linked to a move a number of years ago prior to his Real Madrid move. Chelsea’s formation will be unknown until Drogba and Lampard’s future has been decided. Expect a 4-2-3-1 if both stay, which will accomidate both the impressive Ballack and Lampard. Essien must play in the center of the park, which will cause a selection problem with Makelele.
United play Chelsea on: 20th September 2008 (a), 10th January 2009 (h)
Star man: Didier Drogba
Everton- United beat Everton on both occasions last season with a 1-0 victory at Goodison through a Vidic header and a Ronaldo brace back at Old Trafford. Everton have come on leaps and bounds under David Moyes and do play some nice football at times. Yakabu needs to find some more consistency with Andrew Johnson and get Tim Cahill back to full fitness who scores some vital goals from midfield. Expect both Liverpool sides to be challenging for fourth place. Everton are the most likely side to break into the ‘top four’. Lescott can also add to the goals and had a superb season last term and broke into the England setup. Expect a 4-5-1 against United with Pinenaar, Arteta and Cahill breaking from midfield.
United play Everton on: 25th October 2008 (a), 31st January 2009 (h)
Star man: Tim Cahill
Fulham - Lost both games against United last season with Ronaldo scoring (another) brace and 3-0 at Craven Cottage with Park and Scholes impressing. Roy Hodgson did an unbelievable job last season in keeping the cottagers up, but will expect much of the same this season unless they spend big. Expect a 4-5-1 in both matches next season against United with Danny Murphy and Jimmy Bullard attempting to pull the strings from midfield. Again, United should win both matches.
United play Fulham on: 30th August 2008 (h), 21st March 2009 (a)
Star man: Jimmy Bullard
Hull City - Hull’s first appearances in the Premier League will be a touch one and are favourites to be relegated. Phil Brown has done a superb job and is already looking to strengthen his squad with Stelios from Bolton. Nick Barmby has already reiterated that Hull will be ‘no push over’ but United will be bitterly disappointed not to get six points from both meetings next term. United have never played a top flight match against Hull City. The last league meeting came in the February of 1975 when United beat Hull 2-0 at Old Trafford in the old Division 2. The last meeting between the teams came in 1987 with a 6-0 League cup win over the tigers.
United play Hull on: 1st November 2008 (h), 24th May 2009 (a)
Star man: Frazer Campbell
Liverpool - Forever the bridesmaids (or more accurate a friend of the bride), Liverpool have now gone 18 years without the league title and have found keeping up with United to be a real challenge as Manchester United thrived on the harder domestic campaign. Rafa Benitez has rode his luck since ‘winning’ the Champions League three years ago in what can only be described as a freak match. Liverpool may expect a better return from Fernando Torres against the top four teams domestically next season. The impressive Spaniard only managed to find the net once (against Chelsea) last season in six games against the top sides (although i’m sure i’ll be reminded he was half fit against Arsenal at Anfield and came on as a late sub in the return fixture). Compare this to Ronaldo who scored three in six. Benitez has brought in a number of players who really just do not have the quality to match that of Manchester United. The workhorse Kuyt, the overrated Pennant and Benayoun do have their qualities but more is needed in order to compete both in Europe and domestically. Expect Liverpool to take up a 4-2-3-1 formation against United – with Mascherano patrolling the space in front of the back four. United have played Liverpool 32 times in the Premier League, winning 18, losing 7 and drawing he remaining 7. United are expected to beat Liverpool at home but will be pleased with a point away. Although after the success of the past two seasons – a win at Anfield should not be ruled out.
United play Liverpool on: 13th September 2008 (a), 14th March 2009 (h)
Star man: Steven Gerrard
Manchester City - City did the double over United for the first time since since 1969/70 in two complete opposite games. At Eastlands City held on to a 1-0 victory after being bombarded by United’s attack. However the return fixture at Old Trafford, they ran out deservingly 2-1 winners. Every red will want to beat City this season and as usual they will want to spoil the party. Last season was a bit of a fantasy football season for City, but without any trophies. A whole host of players were brought into the setup including Benjani and Elano – who impressed at times but could not save Sven Goran Ericksson his job. Expect Mark Hughes to get them to play a high tempo counter attack game. City’s last game in the league was an 8-1 drumming at Middlesbrough – something that they will want to put right next season; although the Ronaldinho link is a tad far fetched.
United play Manchester City on: 29th November 2008 (a), 9th May 2009 (h)
Star man: Micah Richards
Middlesbrough - Gareth Southgate and co will be pleased to see the back of Ronaldo if he does move to Real Madrid; although i’m not sure as to what his post match interview will be about. Southgate has proceeded to moan about Ronaldo ever since he took over from England failure Steve McLaren two seasons ago. Whether it be showboating or diving – Southgate will be talking about it. Middlesbrough finished 13th last season, a place behind fellow north east rivals Newcastle. The introduction of Alfonso Alves was a great lift to the team – and he scored two good goals against United last term. They are a physical side that can offer good width in Downing and Tuncay. They also have a very impressive center half in David Wheater, who will want to follow up on last season’s England call up.
United play Middlesbrough on: 28th December 2008 (h), 2nd May 2009 (a)
Star man: Stuart Downing
Newcastle United - Newcastle fans endured a circus of a season last term, which resulted in the sacking of Sam Allardyce and the hiring of Toon army favourite, Kevin Keegan. United absolutely hammered Newcastle on both occasions with Ronaldo scoring a hatrick at Old Trafford along with a memorable strike by Rio Ferdinand and a 5-1 victory at St James Park. Newcastle United fans are renowned for demanding success and open attacking football – one of the reasons that Allardyce was dismissed, although for me rather too hastily. Newcastle United should be competing for a UEFA cup spot – nothing higher at the moment. Michael Owen needs to retain full fitness and the club needs to concentrate on the pitch rather than allow the Joey Barton show to take over. Expect two tougher games against Newcastle next season, but to be honest – they can’t be much easier.
United play Newcastle on: 16th August 2008 (h), 4th March 2009 (a)
Star man: Obafemi Martins
Portsmouth – FA Cup winners Portsmouth put up a good fight against United last season – getting a point from the 1-1 draw at Fratton Park and also knocking out United in the FA Cup on the way to their victory. The 2-0 victory at home included that freekick from Ronaldo – which was simply stunning. Portsmouth have recently announced the signing of young Chelsea forward Sahar on loan for the season and the contract extension of Nigerian forward Kanu. Redknapp has done wonders on the South coast and in Lassana Diarra, they have a real gem of a midfielder. Strong, quick, reads the game well and is a very good passer. The backline is also very impressive with, although in the autumn of his career, Sol Campbell leading the backline. Glenn Johnson has also been impressive this terms with attacking runs from right full back. Will be interesting to see if Pompey are successful in their bid for Peter Crouch.
United play Portsmouth on: 23rd August 2008 (a), 28th February 2009 (a)
Star man: Lasanna Diarra
Stoke City - Newly promoted Stoke City last played United in the league cup back in 1993, when United won 3-2 on aggregate (after having lost the first leg, 2-1, at the Victoria Ground) – in the league you have to go further back to the 1984/85 season when United hammered Stoke 5-0 at Old Trafford (Hughes twice, Olsen twice and Whiteside the scores on the day). Stoke have been criticised for their direct play approach, however it is unlikely Tony Pulis will change. Dave Bassett has defended Pulis stating that the criticism only comes from managers who can’t defend against that style. Well, to be honest, they’re not going to find all the space they found in the Championship between the backline and the goalkeeper, so they will need to defend deep and hit on the counter as much as they can due to the lack of quality they have in the side. Along with Hull, Stoke City are favourites to go straight back down and United should expect six points next term.
United play Stoke City on: 15th November 2009 (h), 26th December 2008 (a)
Star man: Liam Lawrence
Sunderland - United favourite Keane has done a good job at Sunderland last season, although a number of fans will point at the amount of money he has spent on player to take to the north east. Craig Godon for £9Million, Richardson for £5.5Million and Kenwyne Jones for £6Million (who actually looks value for money now). Sunderland did what they had to do last season and avoid the drop, however a thrashing at Everton around questions has morale very low. Sunderland put up a good fight against United at Old Trafford with Saha scoring the only goal of the game, although the return fixture was a little more one sided with United running out 4-0 winners.
United play Sunderland on: 6th December 2009 (h), 11th April 2009 (a)
Star man: Kenwyne Jones
Tottenham Hotspurs - Tottenham had a quite remarkable season last year that started out with optimism that they could overcome their North London rivals and finish higher in the table for the first time since 1994/95 – however what they witnessed was quite extraordinary with a very weak defense – Martin Jol finally got the sack and Ramos replaced him. Ramos is a manager that I like and the changes he brought in was evident in the victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup last season. Although United ran out 3-1 winners, before Dawson was sent off United struggled to break down Tottenham with a short passing game in the final third, with Spurs defending excellently. Carlos Tevez rescued a point at White Hart Lane for United and Nani scored the winner in the narrow 1-0 victory over Spurs at home. They have signed the excellent Luka Modric who i’m sure will be a star next season – I like the way this lad plays and can operate as a deep playmaker who can break forward or can operate at the top of a midfield diamond. Spurs have also added Giovani Dos Santos to their squad – a player that the jury is still out on. Scored an excellent hat trick towards the end of last season but was eclipsed by the excellent Bojan in a troubled Catalan season. He does have ability although I don’t believe Barca would have sold him for such a small amount (considering the hype that surrounded him when he first broke into the side) if they felt he could develop further – although United did sell Rossi for a cut rate price. Will be also interesting to see if Berbatov does come to Old Trafford (which I doubt) and if Keane joins Liverpool – which have both been reported in recent weeks.
United play Tottenham on: 13th December 2009 (a), 25th April 2009 (h)
Star man: Robbie Keane
West Bromwich Albion - WBA, the Champions from the Championship, will be expected to fare better than the other promoted teams due to the quality of the side and from past Premier League experience. Kevin Phillips, the FourFourTwo player of the season, was in good form last season and help the Baggies reach the FA Cup semi final. Tony Mowbray has vowed that he won’t panic and be forced into bringing in new players as he is satisfied with his current squad. Expect a relegation dog fight but with WBA the most likely to survive out the new boys.
United play WBA on: 18th October 2008 (a), 27th January 2009 (h)
Star man: Kevin Phillips
West Ham United - United beat West Ham 4-1 on the second last day of the season to get one hand on the title – a very sweet victory, especially after the last couple of games against the Hammers. In the past twenty years, United have failed at West Ham when needing victory in the fight for the Championship. United lost 1-0 in the 1991/92 season and drew 1-1 in the 1994/95 season, when a victory was needed. Ludek Mikloško played out of his skin in both games and the title went to Leeds in 92 and Blackburn in 95. Some people have picked West Ham as a bit of a bogey team for United in the Premier League – something that is actually surprising. In the 26 games United have played West Ham, they have beaten us 4 times with United winning 15 of them. The victories for West Ham came in the season just gone at Upton Park, the double over us the season before and a 1-0 victory at Old Trafford from a goal by Jermaine Defoe (2001/02 season). West Ham have been very unlucky with injuries this season and will expect to do better with a fully fit squad next season. They do play some nice football at times and have produced some fine player over the years – we’ll see if Fred Sears adds to this list over the next season.
United play West Ham United on: 28th October 2008 (h), 7th February 2009 (a)
Star man: Dean Ashton
Wigan Athletic - The scene of United’s glorious title victory in the rain will live long in the memories of United fans for a long time. Fergie’s jumping jig like an excited uncle at a wedding never gets tiresome and United will hope some of the same against the Latics this season. United beat Wigan twice last season with a 4-0 victory at Old Trafford and as mentioned in the opening of this piece, a 2-0 victory at the JJB Stadium in May. Steve Bruce did a wonderful job in keeping Wigan up and he has two fabulous players in Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios, both of whom were linked with a move to Old Trafford. Combined with the attacking flair of Jason Koumas and the confident displays in defence from Paul Scharner, Wigan fans should expect to avoid the drop next term.
United play Wigan on: 20th December 2008 (h)*, 18th April 2009 (a)
Star man: Paul Scharner
* Subject to change due to the FIFA Club World Cup tie.
And there you have it, Stretford-end.com’s domestic rival guide. Expect a European rival watch over the next few weeks when transfers emerge from our rivals from across the waters. So back to this blog, what are your thoughts on the current season in terms of rivals? Will Chelsea be even stronger with Scolari in charge and the purchase of Deco? Does this mean Lampard will go to Internazionale? Can Arsenal improve of last season impressive display? Or will the probable departure of Adebayor hinder Arsenal as they yet again search for a front man? And lastly, will Liverpool ever get close to winning a league title?? Or will it be another year to forget adding to the 18 past domestically already?