Manchester United begin their title defence looking to make it a four in a row. There is a buzz of anticipation in the air, as would be expected of a season opener, but surely much less than the hyperbole that would accompany a Sky Sports promotional video. Nonetheless, today is finally a match that matters, and so will every match till May. So onwards and upwards…
Let us start by quoting Ferguson, who has sidestepped the opportunity of having a go at referees — presumably because the Premier League have decided to take a more strict approach regarding managers’ freedoms speaking about referees — and has gone after footballers in general, feigning injury to break the momentum in play:
‘Players who cheat are killing the game, not the referees. Something has got to be done about it. The game is meant to be stopped or the ball kicked out if there is a head injury, but the whole thing is overcooked now.
I can agree with the manager on this one. I have been sick of the Eboues of this game, although his blanket accusation of ‘players who cheat’ could also be reasonably extended towards Ronaldo, for instance — who in the managers words was the ‘best player in the world and streets ahead of Messi.’ But then this is Ferguson, and he will say what he thinks merits mention — contradiction or no contradiction.
But speaking of injuries that stop play, I’d say advantage must be given to the side in possession, unless it is a serious head injury. But this is always going to be a very slippery argument, and requires referees with a sharp sense of judgement.
He also speaks of his motivation, and what drives him on year after year. “I never regard myself as bullet-proof,” Ferguson says. “I might be bullet-proof at this very moment, before a ball has been kicked, but I have always worked under a fear of failure. I think every manager would say the same. Failure for Manchester United might be a poor performance against Birmingham in the first game. What you have won before counts for nothing, in that respect, because the most important thing is keeping a winning mentality going from day to day. I’ve just got something in me that doesn’t think about anything else but winning. You try to transmit that mentality to the players – that winning is what matters and losing matters even more.”
It’s always interesting to pick the mind of a successful manager — at least it’s fascinated me — and Ferguson’s press conferences, when he’s in the mood, are typically forthright and honest. I’ve always felt his success is down to his ability to instill hunger in the players despite prolonged periods of success. A lot of this can be accomplished by pointing out moments of failure even in successful seasons, amplifying its significance, and using that to drive players on. I think that moment of failure in our last season was fairly obvious: Barcelona.
Despite the euphoria of equalling Liverpool’s record the Champions’ League final defeat stung, so much so that it could have been perceived as a failure.
In team news, we seem depleted in defence, with Evans and Vidic not fit enough to make it. However Rio should be fit despite a few worries, and he should partner Brown. However with Neville fit, it worries me that he could be allowed to start. With Rafael also out with an injured shoulder, the romantic in me wants our fast improving starlet, Richie de Laet, earn a start. My head tells me, in typical school headmaster fashion (with cane in hand), it’s not going to happen. Evra would start at left back.
In midfield, we’ll surely see Fletcher and Carrick in the middle. Nani, who played for Portugal should start on the left with Valencia on the right. Rooney and Berbatov will play up top in a pretty attack-minded side.
As most of you know I always get my predictions and team sheets wrong. So you never have to take my view on the XI seriously. But, since I have to do this everytime, here’s the prediction.
Prediction: 2-1 to United. I am conservative because I think we need our defence to be in their best behaviour with our attack clicking into gear for a better margin of a result.
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