Season Preview - Manchester United

Quick Reminder, Real Life

A record breaking 19th league title and a Champions League Final appearance. Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? These are even more impressive accomplishments since a lot of neutral observers would agree that it happened in something of a transition year for United. Their central midfield lacked an above-average talent (which Barca made abundantly clear in the Champions League final) and they featured a lot of very young (Rafael, Fabio, Smalling, and Chicharito) and very old players (Scholes, Giggs, and EvdS) all over the pitch in regular roles. The breakout star of the season and likely the difference between winning the title and not, was Mexican forward Javier Hernandez. Chicharito’s gift for efficient scoring saw him displace Dimitar Berbatov, the league’s joint top-scorer, as a starter. The only downside other than the loss in the final to Barca was a frustrating and non-Ferguson-like tendency to lose leads late on the road. “Fergie Time” just wasn’t quite the same when the Red Devils left Old Trafford last season. Still, with the title in the bag, that’s really just nitpicking isn’t it?

Quick Reminder, Fantasy

Nani was a fantasy stud for the first half of the season but ended it as only a part-time starter. Berbatov had matches where he was incredible followed by long barren stretches that caused fantasy managers to pull out the hair Rooney ultimately had transplanted in. Vidic was excellent but expensive. Park was incredibly effective for the price in limited duty. After a disasterous first half of the season, Rooney came back and had at least a pretty good second half (although still not up to his standards or price). Chris Smalling had a very nice run of production for a cheap price as injuries sidelined Ferdinand.

Summer Changes

  • BFAY - We’ve been big fans of Ashley Young since he came to the Premier League with Watford (BFAY stands for Blog Favorite Ashley Young). Young has continued to excel since that first season with progressively better clubs and now he gets his chance on the biggest stage in England. The biggest question is how he fits with existing wings Nani and Antonio Valencia.
  • The Next Wave - In preparation for the Rio/Vidic partnership aging SAF added Phil Jones to Chris Smalling. Jones wasn’t a fulltime starter with Rovers last season but is expected to mature into an excellent player. In the same vein, David De Gea was brought in as the long term replacement for EvdS who retired.
  • Retiring Legend - Paul Scholes finally rode off into the sunset. His last season wasn’t nearly as good as the media reported but he certainly can be discussed in terms of a media lifetime achievement award. Even in reduced form, he will be missed.
  • Returnees - While they’re not technically new to United, they return Tom Cleverly, Danny Welbeck and Mame Diouf who all gained valuable experience at other Premier League teams last season. It is unlikely that any will break in as fulltime starters but you could certainly see Welbeck and Cleverly playing at least occasional roles.

2011-12 Outlook, Real Life

Despite all of the success of last season, you never really got the feeling that this was one of United’s most dominant teams. They won and that can’t be taken away but it was as much down to the lack of an exceptional rival for the title as their own excellence. Given that their major acquisitions were more about doubling down on existing strengths (central defense and wings) and replacing an outgoing player with one of great potential but uncertain preparedness to deliver at the top level (keeper) immediately you wonder if they took steps to sufficient steps to stay on top. Regardless, it seems like the options for United are first or second for the upcoming season.

Probable Starting XI

De Gea, Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Carrick, Anderson, Young, Nani, Rooney, Hernandez

2011-12 Scouting Report, Yahoo Fantasy
  • Fantasy Gold - If healthy and starting regularly then Vidic, Rooney, Nani, and BFAY all fall into this category. The questions in this area mostly revolve around Nani and Young and the potential that they’ll suffer from rotation with Valencia available to fill in more than capably.
  • On The Rise - Every season a variety of factors create opportunities for value buying in the Yahoo! game:
    • DDG (newcomer) hasn’t been given the #1 shirt yet but if he is, he’ll be a great bargain even if he isn’t quite up to the standard set by van der Sar.
    • Rafael (relative newcomer) seems likely to be the regular starter at right back and comes at a relatively cheap price. The caveat is that as I write this he went off very early in the pre-season match with Barca which doesn’t bode well.
    • Fabio (relative newcomer) is less likely to start regularly because Evra blocks his path on the left and his brother seems preferred on the right side. That said, if Rafael’s injury concerns persist or Evra picks some up Fabio seems even more inclined to attack than his brother.
    • Anderson (new starter?) is being included here mostly for Jeremy’s sake. He keeps thinking “this will be the year Anderson comes good”. I’m much less convinced that he’ll ever come good and even less convinced that if he does it will translate into fantasy statistics. Still, he may start regularly for one of the best teams in the league and he’s cheap so he merits watching early.
  • Traps - At this point in their respective careers, Evra and Berbatov fall most easily into this category but for different reasons. Evra’s price is extremely high based on performances from previous seasons that he just couldn’t match last season. Berbatov is the ultimate risk/reward proposition. Despite his 20 goals last season he isn’t a regular starter and even when he does play he was feast or famine. If you paid the price and got him on the right day, he scored big for you. More frequently, he either didn’t start or he started and did next to nothing.

2011-12 Outlook, Official PL Fantasy

Studs: Wayne Rooney, the most expensive player in the game (12M) is a season long stud. Penalty taker for the champions and with the service he should receive from the likes of Nani, Young, and Valencia, I anticipate another successful fantasy footie season for Wazza. Vidic (like Leighton Baines) is priced high at 8M but United do keep it tight at the back and he’s a stud despite the exorbitant fee. Big “if,” but if Nani and/or Ashley Young start 30+ league games they are obviously must-owns. Wonder how the rotation policy will work out...

Duds: Avoid Rio Ferdinand (6.5M) even though he is more affordable than Vidic and Evra. Sir Alex Ferguson will rest his aging veteran and Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans will receive some playing time as well. Dont buy Rio. You will be disappointed.

On the fence:Keep an eye on Cleverley (5.5M) if Sneijder isn’t signed, though it’s unlikely that the youngster will start on a regular basis unless there is an injury crisis. Welbeck (7M) is also priced right and with Hernandez suffering from concussion and set to miss the first few league games, the young speedster could be a major risk/reward pick if Sir Alex plays him alongside Rooney or Berbatov. Berbatov, of course, last year’s Golden Boot winner, is always solid at Old Trafford but at 9.5M he’s on the stud/dud fence with so much competition up front for starts.


  1. Anonymous1:32 PM

    And needless to say, don't even think about Michael Owen. Even Scholes forgot his name in an interview when asked to list the Man Utd players that are in the Top 20 All Time Most Goals Scored (I think it was only the Premier League).

  2. FlyingHamster4:42 PM

    Anderson has been scoring quite frequently in pre-season, and they are against West Brom. For the first few games when Chicharito is not around, I'd say Sir Alex will opt for Nani and Valencia on the wing, with Young behind Rooney. So much speed there...Will Valencia be back for the opening game, and will he be fit enough without pre-season and limited times with Ecuador?

  3. Valencia might not be fit but Rafael is now definitely fit. He might even play in the Community Sheild according to Man Utd website.