By Rasheed Abu Bakar
The international break is allowing clubs to draw some early conclusions about their squad for the season ahead. New formations or style of play brought about by new signings would have been practiced during pre-season and this short break gives the manager and coaching staff time to reflect on what works best.
With two unconvincing wins and an opening day loss at Everton, Manchester United’s stuttered start to the season would be of concern to Ferguson. In the first three games, United scored six goals but conceded five and collected six points from a possible nine – not a statistic to be pleased about for a club looking to erase the memory of the dramatic end to last season.
In the 3-2 wins over Fulham and Southampton, United huffed and puffed to victory. They looked toothless at Goodison Park and more worryingly, four of the six goals that United have scored so far came from a 29-year-old new signing who is prone to the occasional injury. Robin Van Persie almost single-handedly carried Arsenal on his shoulders last season and three games into his new club, his role has not changed so far.
It is still early days to judge where United’s other signing would fit best but Shinji Kagawa is shaping to be the fulcrum of all attack.
He was United’s star man against Everton and even scored on his home debut against Fulham but the game against Southampton showed the weaker side of the Japanese. He was haggled as soon as he was on the ball and found it hard to turn and pass, often opting to pass the ball back or towards the wing. He upped his off the ball running but was not picked out by his teammates and was later substituted for Paul Scholes, a man Ferguson is finding really hard to replace.
In his post match interview, Van Persie offered his man of the match award to Scholes declaring that things started to go well when the evergreen ex-England international came on.
This is not a swipe at his Japanese teammate but such is the skill, passing accuracy and footballing brain Scholes has that can turn a game on its head. The reliance on Scholes will not please Ferguson and he will be looking for Kagawa, Cleverly and Anderson to stamp more authority throughout the season.
Now that Michael Carrick has been relieved of defensive duties, Ferguson would not mind a selection headache for central midfield.
Vidic’s return after missing a lot of last season is akin to a new signing. The big Serbian is influential at the back and his partnership with Ferdinand will be what Ferguson prefers this season. The 2008 Champions League and Premier League triumph was largely possible because these two stayed relatively injury-free and struck up a watertight fort.
Similar to Bruce-Pallister and Stam-Johnsen, the Vidic-Ferdinand combo (when fully fit of course) can provide the muscle needed to wrestle back the title. A strong centre pairing also means David De Gea will be less exposed which will result in less flapping arms and silly mistakes for the young custodian.
Ferdinand’s pace may have been long gone but his ability to read the game will be crucial against pacier attackers like Luis Suarez, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Torres.
There are still 35 games left in the season. 105 points up for grabs. Six points from three games is not bad after all but not for a club with such stature.
When the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal come knocking, Ferguson knows he cannot depend on Van Persie to score hatrick after hatrick or hope Vidic’s last minute tackles smother opposition attacks.
He needs to get Wayne Rooney in the right shape of mind quickly and hope he strikes a partnership with Van Persie upfront with Kagawa supplying those defense splitting passes.
The upcoming games against Wigan, Galatasaray and Liverpool will be the perfect litmus test.