Won one, drawn one, lost one; Manchester United’s opening to the new Premier League season has been a bit of a mixed bag. Not disastrous but certainly not very impressive at all, at least the team’s performances have been marginally less cringeworthy than Ed Woodward and David Moyes’ wild goose chase on the last day of the transfer window. That €40m bid for Sami Khedira on Deadline Day still seems more desperate than a drunken Calum Best on heat at a Nuts Magazine wrap party; after we missed out on Ozil, Fabregas and Herrera amongst others it was a move reeking of extreme anxiety.
A fairly routine win against Swansea, an uninspiring draw against a well-organised Chelsea and a ‘please tell me that was just a really awful dream’ loss to Liverpool (possibly the smuggest team in the country right now, but considering their start and the new faces coming in, who can blame them). Moyes hasn’t had the easiest start to his United career but following the retirement of Sir Alex, did anyone expect anything else?
Crystal Palace at home on Saturday is a magnificent opportunity for Moyes to gain a comprehensive victory in front of the Old Trafford faithful. Moreover, it’s crucial for him to ditch the conservative, defence first approach which served him so well during his Everton tenure. You’re at Manchester United now Moyesy, one of the most successful, profitable and globally popular clubs in all of sport. Whereas he previously had to operate on a limited budget, prioritising physicality over technicality, Moyes must now pick a more expansive team to satisfy the higher expectations of United fans. At Everton last season Moyes had to put his faith in the attacking delights of Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic amongst others. He now has Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney; nuff said.
What the dismal defeat to Liverpool demonstrated was that a rigid 4-4-2 is not going to work. At all. Not least with Ryan Giggs on the wing against Philippe Coutinho, who’s 18 years younger and according to official statistics at least 200 million times faster. Ryan is a legend, yes, but not immortal. He should not be starting those sorts of matches, certainly not on the wing.
Brendan Rodgers played a 4-2-3-1 against United and it’s the ideal formation for Moyes to experiment with this season, toying with a more attacking style and providing some of United’s young offensive players with an opportunity to impress.
So, this would be my team selection for Saturday’s match:
GK: De Gea
DF: Jones, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
DM: Carrick, Fellaini
AM: Zaha, Kagawa, Welbeck
FW: Van Persie
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De Gea’s selection is a given, as is the back four. Rafael is expected to return for this weekend and, despite being a natural right back and an extremely promising prospect, he’ll be short of match fitness; Jones gets the nod. Carrick and Fellaini sitting as a two should be an effective partnership, Fellaini’s bruising physical presence complementing Carrick’s more subtle, deft approach. It’ll be a useful occasion for Fellaini to make his debut in a match against (what should be) fairly average opposition.
Van Persie’s indifferent recent form is an irrelevance; he’s the best striker in the league and unless he suffers a Torres-esque dip of confidence (which he won’t), he starts every game. It is, however, the three positions up for grabs behind him that are most difficult to call. With Rooney perhaps requiring surgery on the Harry Potter lightning bolt scar on his forehead, his central position goes to Shinji Kagawa. As I’ve previously written, Kagawa has a brilliant chance to recapture his Borussia Dortmund form after United’s failure to bring in a playmaker over the summer. His class is undeniable but his future at United has been discussed in some quarters and Moyes should be aiming to demonstrate his man management skills by motivating the low on confidence Japanese star.
Starting with the tricky Wilfried Zaha will be a statement of intent, countering the assertion that Moyes is an overly-cautious coach, whilst also being a chance for United fans to see their young acquisition in full flight. I considered picking Nani over Welbeck after the Portuguese signed a new five year contract recently but, with Welbeck’s stamina and team-oriented nature, he seems a more sensible pick to face a fired up Palace.
With the transfer window shut and the season now fully underway, it’s time for Moyes to illustrate what he can do on a week-in week-out basis with a squad that many think won’t be able to retain their status as champions. He has to do it with flair and panache to satisfy the Old Trafford faithful but, in modern football, Moyes will ultimately be judged on results. If he can get a run of wins together whilst also incorporating promising youngsters such as Zaha and Adnan Januzaj, as well as restoring the confidence of the thus far disappointing Shinji Kagawa, Moyes will start to silence his critics as United boldly move into a new, exciting era.