Year of Reckoning – Manchester United & Chelsea

Manchester United and Chelsea have been winning the Barclays Premier League between them for last half decade. This season too they are expected to challenge each other for the title right down to the wire. Both clubs have made significant changes to their set up in terms of players or coaching personnel. What do the fans of these clubs think their prospects this season? We find out.

Manchester United – Looking Forward

So here we are, barely 2 months after the mauling in the Champions League final by Barcelona, Manchester United is barely a week away from starting another season at the Hawthorns against West Bromwich Albion (WBA). The wheel never stops turning; yesterday’s success and failures are quickly forgotten and there are new challenges to meet in the future. The nine point difference with
which United won the title is a thing of the past.
The atrocious away record and the jaw-dropping home record are seen as history. In the most of cynical of industries, yesterday’s

failures and glories are cast aside. The painful episode of Wayne Rooney’s October Revolution is quickly forgotten and the terraces are again singing his songs.
The new season, in contrast, brings innocent hope and aspirations that culminates in the kick-off at Hawthorns against WBA, and hopefully for Sir Alex, one of the many away victories in the coming season.

The Squad: A Fresh Look

The new season is also marked by a youthful feeling to United’s squad. In the summer, Sir Alex has spent more heavily than recent years and overseen a huge turnover in the squad, more than any other season under the old fox’s watch. The new look United squad is partly due to retirements of Edwin Van Der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes and the release of Owen Hargreaves (after 3 years of false hope).
Out go long-serving United players, John O’Shea and Wes Brown. Both became surplus to requirements after the emergence of the Da Silva twins, Chris Smalling and the addition of Phil Jones sealed their fate.
Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, now also surplus with Anders Lindegaard being fit and Darron Gibson are certain to be sold before the transfer window shuts. Mame Biram Diouf will also be sold if the club finds a suitable buyer for the Senegalese striker who has failed to impress in his stay in English Football.
Interestingly, the sale of six senior pros has released around 20 Million Pounds of wages/a year from the Old Trafford. This, more than the raw cash in the banks from the Christiano

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Ronaldo sale and payment received from the AON shirt sponsorship deal, has enabled Sir Alex to spend heavily this summer.
In have come three players with age in their side; typical Glazeronomics (Infuriating for some fans, it means players with a good resale value), the cynics will say.
specialist and Young brings in the promise of good deliveries in the box from corners and free-kicks. But it is difficult to see him as anything but a back-up to Nani and Antonio Valencia. There is a concern that Young offers nothing new but another wing option and improves the quality of the squad rather than the first team. Meanwhile returning from loans Danny Welback,
In David De Gea, Sir Alex has bought a ‘keeper who has genuine promise of becoming the best in the position. But the Spanish Stopper is not there yet. He is young
and talented but there will be mistakes and the United management should be patient with the shot-stopper. It is a very bold acquisition nonetheless. In Phil Jones, Sir Alex has signed a future England star, team leader and a flexible defensive option. There is little doubt that Sir Alex would have liked to wait one more season with this signing, but as before with Rooney and Smalling, United was forced into action with interests from other clubs. Finding enough playing time for the 16 Million Pound acquisition will be one of Sir Alex’s key concerns in the coming season. Then, there is the acquisition of Ashely Young. This signing has divided opinion within fans and pundits alike. No doubt Young offers flexibility in attack in various positions. In the 7 years since David Beckham’s departure, United has lacked a good dead ball Tom Cleverley and Federico Macheda adds a youthful vigor to United’s squad. Each has enjoyed some amount of success in United’s pre-season tour to the US.
Two key areas in United’s squad haven’t been addressed, till now. United lack a genuine creative midfielder and a midfield destroyer who carries the team through difficult phases of a match. The failure to land any of the one from Luca Modric, Wesley Sneijder or Samir Nasri or for that matter any creative midfielder is a concern with the United squad.
Then there is the inexplicable failure to replace Owen Hargreaves, leaving Michael Carrick to do the defensive duties in the center of the park, which he clearly doesn’t relish. With Darren Fletcher’s fitness problems, Sir Alex’s scouting network will be on a high alert for any options opening up.
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The 2011-12 Season: Looking Forward

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Domestically United’s pre-eminence was sealed in a superbly professional fashion at the end of the campaign. The nine point gap did not really tell the whole story of the campaign but arguably United were worthy winners at the end. Changes have taken place in the summer that alters the dynamics of the coming season but United are still in a strong position to defend their domestic crown.
The main challengers to United for the title this season are Chelsea, City and Arsenal. Chelsea has appointed a new manager, again, in 33 year old Andre Villas Boas. He might be a bit inexperienced at the top level but last season he has overseen a treble wining campaign at Porto so he has enjoyed success. Chelsea’s chances will depend a lot on how quickly Villas Boas can impose his style of management on the ageing Chelsea squad, can he make Fernando Torres rediscover his form and make the Drogba-Torres partnership work? These are questions to ponder about.
Roberto Mancini has assembled a fantastic squad, at Manchester City, that can seriously challenge for the title and in Sergio Aguero they have added some star dust to the City squad. Whether Tevez stays or not, City has some frightening attacking options in Aguero, Balotelli, David Silva, Edin Dzeko and Adam Johnson.
Arsenal’s pre-season has been dogged by the annual Barca-Fabregas saga and to add to that

Samir Nasri’s contractual problems. A lot will depend on what squad Arsenal will finally end up with after 31st August. They need a quality central defender and have been linked with Christopher Samba and Phil Jagielka.
As discussed earlier, United has assembled a good but a relatively young squad for the season that seems good enough to defend the Premier League Title. The back-lined and the strike-force were United’s strength and it will remain that way for this season too. At the back Van Der Sar (VDS), Neviile, Brown and O’Shea have left the club but in Jones, Smalling, Evans and the Da Silva twins, United have good young defenders to call upon in addition to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand’s experience. In the goalkeeping department de Gea has been signed to fill the boots of VDS. He is young but very good prospect for the future. A lot will depend on how quickly he can build the understanding between the defenders.
The strike-force of United comprises Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatove, Michael Owen, Danny Welback and Kiko Macheda. A good mix of experience and youth in the department will allow United to rotate according to the needs. Hernandez had a stellar debut season, scoring 20 goals in all competitions last season. He and Rooney formed a deadly partnership in front of goal at the fag-end of last season. Rooney on the other hand had a topsy-turvy season. He had a horrendous start to the season, where he looked lost and out of form and touch; then occured the ‘October Revolution’ and the events that followed. In the last 2-3 months of
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the season he found his form back and formed that deadly partnership with Hernanded and started influencing games by playing in the ‘hole’ between the striker and the midfield. Rooney has looked very sharp in the pre-season and looks all set to have a big season for United both as a scorer and creator .Dimitar Berbatove had an unusual season. He carried the team during Rooney’s bad patch and was the joint top scorer in the Premier League with 21 goals. But his form and place to Hernandez in the lst 3 months of the season and couldn’t really influence games in where he started. The crushing blow came when he was not in the playing squad for the Champions League final and in his place Michael Owen was picked. That brings us the Owen, who made enough appearances to win his first Premier League medal but rarely played too many minutes to have any kind of influence. Danny Welback is coming back from a successful loan stint from Sunderland and hopes to make his mark at United and Macheda had a horrendous loan experience at Sampdoria where he a scored a solitary goal and the team was relegated from Serie A.
With Hernadez out for 2-3 weeks with an injury Rooney and Welback might form the partnership upfront with support from Berbatov and Owen. How Welback can get into the groove early in the season and form a reasonable partnership with Rooney, will be something to watch out for. Berbatov has lost his place in the starting 11 but how he reacts to the whole situation will be something that will intrigue some of his fans. Can he force his way back to the starting berth??

Champions League:

The real test of United’s progress or otherwise this summer will come in Europe. The humiliation at Barca’s hand, last May, is not forgotten easily and the intention-as stated by Sir Alex- is to match the Catalans. In reality United has done nothing in the summer to close the gap on Pep Guardiola’s brilliant side. This despite United friendly win against the under-cooked Catalans at Washington in the pre-season tour. Barca on the other hand has added the brilliant Alexis Sanchez and may add Cesc Fabregas by the end of the transfer window. In fact they have already added quality to an already brilliant side.
There is no guarantee United might emulate last season final run, let alone winning trophy. Real Madrid has done smart business with the addition of Nuri Sahin, a deep lying creative force, Raphale Varane, a youthful defensive addition, Fabio Coentrao will solved Madrid’s problem at left back and Hamid Altintop will provide experience in the middle of the park.
Inter’s probable retention of Sneijder, and possible recruitment of Tevez, will boost the Italians’ hopes. Gian Piero Gasperini’s old-fashioned looking 3-4-3 formation will certainly take some opposition by surprise over the next few months.
Meanwhile, 2010 finalists Bayern may well be dark-horses for a decent run in the competition following turmoil at the Allianz Arena last season. Gone is confrontational Dutchman Luis van Gaal, replaced by veteran coach Jupp Heynckes along with sensible summer

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recruitment in Manuel Neuer and Jerome Boateng.

Cup Competitions:

Domestic cup competitions will again be used by Ferguson to blood youngsters and ensure fringe squad members gain minutes on the pitch. Smalling, Jones, Cleverley, Macheda and Welbeck should all feature heavily. Many supporters will also look out for members of the FA Youth Cup winning squad – notably Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison – each of whom should play some part in United’s Carling Cup campaign.
In fact youth may be the theme of United’s

season, with the average age of Ferguson’s squad somewhat lower than a year ago. With it comes vibrancy but also the potential for error. How much United has lost with experienced departures may only be felt in the closing weeks of the coming season. The progression of younger players in lieu of genuine world stars – especially in central midfield – may be the key to United’s success or failure in the coming months.
Krishnendu Sanyal is a Manchester United fan and worships Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Krish is a management grad by education and an accidental entrepreneur by occupation. He can be reached on twitter @kriacked
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Chelsea – Challenging the Champions

“YOU ARE FIRED”-the last words that Carlo Ancelotti would get to hear from the Chelsea boss, Roman Abramovich, after an unsuccessful attempt to either retain the Premier League crown or bring European glory to Stamford Bridge. He was the fifth manager since 2003 to be shown the door by the most impatient club owner ever known to English Football. It’s been over two months since the 2010-11 Premier League season ended, but the Stamford Bridge faithful is still finding it very difficult to cope with the disappointment of a trophy-less season. The 2011-12 soccer calendar is due to kick off in a few days and everyone around Chelsea is once again eager and desperate to win all that’s available and shout at the top of their voice, “We are the Champions”.

Flashback: What went amiss?

The defending champions of the 2010-11 EPL campaign started their title defense with style. They were mauling their opponents with ease

off a possible thirty with an impressive score of 27 goals, conceding only 3. Chelsea opened a healthy convincing lead and was breaking away from its challengers. What happened from November to the first week of January was really baffling. During this period, Chelsea played 11 times and managed only 2 wins with 5 losses and 4 draws. They scored 9 times and let in 16 goals. Injuries to key players during these two months proved disastrous and exposed a serious lack of bench strength. Ancelotti could not find able replacements for injury stricken Lampard, Essian, Drogba, Terry, Alex, Zhirkov, Benayoun and Ivanovic.
When football is played at the highest level, injuries cannot be accepted as a reason for failure. The failure of Ancelotti to nurture young players as well as providing sufficient match time to other players in the squad was quite apparent. Playing the same 15-16 players day after day risks injuries to these players and also affects the player morale of the remaining players in the squad. As a result, when the manager needed these players to deliver him the result during Nov-Dec-Jan, they simply were not able to respond. This phase in the
through attractive and effective football. Chelsea was looking like a well oiled, lethal winning machine, steam rolling anyone on their way and scoring at their will. The first ten encounters saw them winning eight games with only a draw and a loss. 25 points were scored Championship run simply cost Chelsea the title and Ancelotti his job. Interestingly the departure of Ray Wilkins, the first team coach, at the start of November coincided with the beginning of the great Chelsea slide. The controversial departure of a much respected
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coaching staff from the Chelsea ranks may have unsettled the team as well. Trying to bring back Chelsea to its winning ways, a desperate Abramovich opened the coffers and bought David Luiz and forced a deal for Fernando Torres, breaking the club transfer record in the January transfer window. From January onwards Chelsea made a strong comeback with most of the injured players back in the squad, but it was too little too late. David Luiz immediately made a mark with his good performances throughout the latter half of the season. Fernando Torres though, was the biggest disappointment. Ancelotti failed to make Torres and Drogba come to terms with each other. Torres lacked the sharpness in front of the goal and could finally score after 10 games.

Throughout the season the performance of the team against the top six clubs was also disappointing. They could only manage four wins, two draws and six losses against the top half teams of (1) Manchester United, (3) Manchester City, (4) Arsenal, (5) Tottenham, (6) Liverpool and (7) Everton. The away record was even more dismal with out a single win. The team defending the championship could only salvage 7 wins, 5 draws and 7 losses from away fixtures. The Champions League Quarter Final
loss against Manchester United and the FA Cup exit against Everton were the final nails in the coffin.

The New Era: Andre Villas Boas comes to Chelsea

The unprecedented success achieved by Andre Villas Boas at such a young age with FC Porto brought him to everyone’s attention. The stunning European and domestic performance of Porto was unanimously attributed to the ruthless but measured attacking style of football masterminded by Andre Villas Boas. He was delivering the result with attractive football and won almost everything possible. The vacant top job at Stamford Bridge was up for grabs, and finally Roman Abramovich made his move with a record breaking £13.3 million offer. On June 22, Andre Villas Boas was presented as the Manager of Chelsea. In his first press-conference he made it absolutely clear that he was not going to make any hasty decisions. He was not going to storm the transfer market and make unwanted purchases without understanding the current squad. He reiterated

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that managing Chelsea is not a one-man job and stressed that he always relied on his back room staff. He called himself “The Group One”, confidently shrugging off the comparisons made with his mentor, Jose Mourinho and refused the title “The Special One V2”. The Chelsea fans could finally sense stability and calmness in the days ahead. His previous stint in Chelsea as a deputy to the Special One, Jose Mourinho, and his fluency in English was a big advantage. Villas Boas seemed the perfect person to manage Chelsea. His infectious love for the game and the ability to make each and every member of the squad feel needed and important was felt by everyone. Villas Boas’ strength is his ability to study each and every opposition player to the minutest details and decide on match strategies likewise.
The Portuguese League is not the strongest of the Football Leagues. The 15 team League is a two horse race with Benfica, the traditional challenger. One can argue that his total of two years experience in professional coaching and management is a concern. His philosophy of playing attacking football irrespective of any match situation is truly unique and brave. But in a highly competitive league like the EPL with four or five teams breathing down the neck, this strategy may backfire. Sometimes he may have to preserve a lead against strong teams and play deep.
However the Europa League performance of FC Porto gives the Chelsea fans a lot of hope. The performance of FC Porto during this tournament showed his maturity and adaptability during a match. The stunning revival against Villarreal, after conceding early goals and the
measured approach against Braga’s solid midfield in the Europa League Final shows a lot of character.

The 2011-12 Premier League Season: Charging ahead

Andre Villas Boas started the Chelsea calendar with a few warm-up Pre-Season matches. The first few matches against Wycombe Wanderers, Portsmouth and Malaysia XI were not impressive at all. They were jittery throughout the match, failed to create proper chances in front of the goal and the shooting in front of the goal lacked sharpness. This was not the kind of start Villas Boas was looking for. Finally in the later matches against Thailand XI, Kitchee and Aston Villa in the promotional Barclays Asia Trophy, Chelsea could make a mark. The team was beginning to take shape. In the final pre-season friendly against Rangers, Chelsea had appeared to be in shape.
The reluctance shown by Chelsea in the transfer market to buy established players confirmed what Andre Villas Boas was saying all along. He was counting on the existing squad to deliver him the results. The presence of a lot of 16-18-20 year olds in the pre-season friendlies made it clear that he is keen to nurture young talents and bring young legs to the already ageing squad. He wants to build a squad for the future. The only summer transfer purchase was of Romelu Lukaku (FW), Thibaut Courtois (GK), Oriol Romeu (MF) and Lucas Piazon (MF). On the other hand, he sold out Yuri Zhirkov and Michael Mancienne, amongst a host of other players.

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In almost all the pre-season matches, Villas Boas stuck to a classical 4-3-3 formation with a holding defensive midfielder staying a little deep and providing the link between the defense and the midfield. He heavily relied on Joshua McEachran for this position. The 18 year old was impressive during the matches. The calmness and composure shown by him at this position is truly remarkable. John Obi Mikel, the other contender for this position will face some stiff competition for a first team place from this 18 yr old kid. The central defensive line was formed by John Terry, Ivanovic and Alex since David Luiz was injured during these friendlies. The left wing belongs to its rightful owner, Ashley Cole who is extremely reliable in his defensive positions and quite potent
in overlapping during an offensive move. For the right back position, Paulo Ferriera is a better defender but Jose Bosingwa is much more effective during an attacking move. A fit David Luiz will have the defence in a better organized and effective formation with Ivanovic taking the right back position with John Terry and David Luiz controlling the central defence. Frank Lampard is the playmaker in the Central Midfield. The injury to Essien at the beginning of the season has more or less confirmed Ramires as the player alongside Lampard in the midfield. Ramires’ ability to provide a sudden accelerating and penetrating run in the opposing defense with Frank Lampard following behind with his stealthy late run-in the box can be menacing for the defending team. The final three positions look promising. The kind of players available with Villas Boas gives him the freedom to try out different formations. The pre-season matches saw Fernando Torres team up with Solomon Kalou on the left and Sturridge on the right. Sturridge was the stand out performer providing support to Torres and also making defense splitting runs to trouble the markers. Fernando Torres is still a big let down and a worry for the team. His off-the-ball movement, swift turns and first touch is still very good, but he lacks that final shot on the goal. Didier Drogba is still the player to vouch for. His physical presence ahead of the formation creates opportunities for the other two attacking players as well. His ability to play swift passes with the wingers creates more chances in front of the goal, and the goalkeepers still find his snap-shooting difficult to block. When Drogba is on the field, Villas Boas can also look for Anelka, Malouda or Kalou
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on either side of him. The match against Rangers saw how effective the formation Sturridge-Drogba-Kalou can be. While defending, Chelsea prefers a 1-4-1-4 formation. The two attacking players from the wings join the two midfielders to make the middle line with the defensive midfielder dropping between the back four and the midfield. The middle pressing starts with Ramires leading the charge with Lampard following close behind from the left and Kalou from the right. McEachran / Mikel generally stay deep and provide support and fills in the free spaces when attacked round the wings. They are also in a position to support the central defenders when overwhelmed by a strong attacking combination.

The 2011-12 Premier League title challenge begins

Chelsea’s challenge for the 2011-12 Premier League totle begins with an away fixture at Stoke on 14th August. Andre Villas Boas has already managed to put together a team capable of challenging the defending champions, Manchester United. The stability that he has brought to this club with his measured approach will be put to test against other big teams of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City through out the championship race. A combination of young legs and experience is available to Andre Villas Boas to bring Chelsea success with style. Beware; Chelsea will be back with a vengeance.
Tamal Kanti Santra loves Spanish football and is a die-hard Brazil fan. He is an amateur writer taking keen interest on the technical aspect of the game. You can follow Tamal on twitter @Tamal_Santra

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