Manchester United and the Rest (Sort of a Preview for the 2011-2012 Premier League)

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    Alex Ferguson is not alone with his hunches and feeling this year, just before the first weekend of Premier League football kicks off. Manchester United, the defending champions, last year and four of the last five seasons, are the favorites to win the title. After the Community Shield second half performance, with Wayne Rooney, Nani and Javier Hernandez, Chicharito from now on, Fergie’s looks set to rule Manchester for another year and make it 20 league titles for Manchester United this season.

    Phil Jones from Blackburn, Ashley Young from Aston Villa and David de Gea from Atletico Madrid. No big superstars, but two very important additions to the depth of the squad and one huge gamble. United were struck with injuries to their back four, morel like plagued with them during the last two seasons. An urgency to make it a bit more youthful yet deep and capable behind Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic was necessary. The development of Rafael and Fabio, the addition of Chris Smalling while releasing John O’Shea and Wes Brown to Sunderland and the purchasing of Phil Jones have seen to the fact the Ferguson has enough quality in front of his young and talented goalkeeper.

    David de Gea is the big gamble. Replacing the retired Edwin van der Sar, De Gea didn’t look all world class in his first official match, but it’ll be stupid to pull the trigger by that performance alone. It can take more than a season for the 20 year old to settle in. Ferguson is usually a patient man when he sees there’s plenty of talent to work with.

    Paul Scholes retired, Ryan Giggs is closer to 40 than ever. The centre of the midfield had to be addressed, and it wasn’t. Ferguson has Carrick, Anderson, Park and a returned and improved Tom Cleverly to hold the middle of the park, the one place where he lost at Wembley to Barcelona. Every team loses there to Barcelona. It should be enough for the Premier League. On the wings and up front, there’s nothing to worry about – Wayne Rooney, Chicharito, Berbatov for the time being, Nani, Antonio Valencia and now Ashley Young – United have a fantastic and well coordinated front. Probably the best in the league.

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    Chelsea made only significant signing this summer – Bringing in another Portuguese manager, Andre Villas-Boas from FC Porto, trying out a formula that worked pretty well seven years ago. Unlike Mourinho, Villas-Boas did not get an open check book. Maybe the financial FIFA Fair Play new rules had something to do with that. He did get Fernando Torres from last year’s mid season (already injured this week in a friendly against Italy), but the rest has been investment for the future – Thibaut Courtois, loaned out to Genk. Youngster Oriol Romeu from Barcelona and probably the most intriguing of all – 18 year old Belgian international Romelu Lukaku, already with over 30 league goals in his short but very promising career.

    Besides that, it’s the old same squad, and old – Lampard, Terry, Drogba, Anelka, Alex, Cech, Malouda. Accomplished and proven? Yes. Enough for another go against the rising and remaining forces? I’m not sure. If no injuries should hamper the season, they’ll be the best in London at least.

    The last star left?
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    Staying in London, things look rather bleak for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger is on the verge of losing two of his three best players – The Fabregas and Nasri transfers are imminent. Despite the hefty cash haul to be had from these moves, Wenger and Arsenal seem like a couple during its last year heading for a divorce. The fans have had enough of the building – It’s been going on for four years, with no sliverwear coming. Wenger’s obsession with young players, despite his eye for talent and the fantastic football his team can present, seems to be his downfall.

    Bad match management and the overall softness and lack of winnerism wasn’t taken care of – Gervinho is a promising talent, but unproven. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlaine is only 17, and right now hoping to be the next Walcott with a bit more versatility is all that can be said for the youngster. Robbie Van Persie, when healthy, is one of the best strikers in the world. He isn’t healthy often, and there’s an overall feeling of changing of the guard at Arsenal. Unless Wenger pulls some magic rabbit out of the hat, the needed sales of Fabregas and Nasri won’t make things better for the Gunners.

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    Back North, to Manchester. City that is. City didn’t make a huge dive into the transfer market, although Samir Nasri might still be arriving very soon. Gael Clichy from Arsenal to make it yet another position to fight for and Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid, with or without the indecisive Carlos Tevez. Depth and talent? Roberto Mancini has the best squad in the league. Finally, they also have the Champions League to play for, making use of that huge squad. Is it enough to win the title for the first time since 1968?

    I change my opinion about Roberto Mancini’s ability to make the best out the wealth and talent pool handed to him and upgraded by him. The community shield match gave me the “no” kind of thought. This team, most of it, has had a season mash together. Besides two goals which had nothing to do with team play, Manchester City seem to be completely reliant on David Silva and Yaya Toure. It doesn’t take a genius manager to realize that and nip it in the bud. No players joining, no apparent system or pre thought. Plus, a cancerous Mario Balotelli on the pitch. Mancini better get rid of that one soon. An odd brilliant goal here and there won’t compensate for his attitude and behavior.

    And on to our final potential challenger, and the most busy buyers this summer, Liverpool. Kenny Dalglish was the manager this team won its last title back in 1990. Nothing new. He gave this team a lift and boost from the graveyard-like depression after the short Roy Hodgson term. Suarez and Carroll, with the addition of Stewart Downing, Jordan Henderson, Charlie Adam and just now Jose Enrique from Newcastle.

    This team needs time to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. The defense has been awful for two years now, making Reina look a lot less than he really is. Steven Gerrard needs time to come back, again. When you spend so much money, time is the last thing you have from the owners and fans, even if you’re Kenny Dalglish. Thank god for Luis Suarez, who has huge expectations from him. Justly so. The team will go where he leads, and if Suarez continues to develop as a World Class striker, unpredictable and posing a danger from anywhere on the field, if Dalglish soon finds the right formula in his overcrowded midfielders garrison while crossing his fingers so his defense doesn’t fall apart Liverpool should be in Champions League contention again. Maybe even more.

    And we can’t leave you without our predictions – I’m going with gut feeling and not with my mind, that’s telling me Manchester United, who are the favorites.

    Champions – Manchester United. Champions League – Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea. Arsenal, and Tottenham, who are the same team they were last year, will finish 5th and 6th.