Saturday, 10 September 2011

Four games. Four Wins: Just how good is this Manchester United team?

Four games, eighteen goals, twelve points.

That is the story, so far, of Manchester United's season.

It means they are top of the table, level on points and ahead on goal different with their city rivals, Manchester City.

Both teams have set a blistering pace to the start of the season, with the other usual contenders struggling to keep up.

Liverpool stuttered against Sunderland and lost against Stoke.

Chelsea have looked unconvincing.

And Arsenal? Well, the less said about them, the better.

United are traditionally slow starters to a season- normally kicking into gear after Christmas and powering on into May, claiming the title and any other silverware that happens to be lying around on the way.

This season however, they have started in fifth gear. A shaky opening performance against West Brom aside, a 5-0 victory against a talented Tottenham, 8-2 demolition of an under strength albeit equally aged Arsenal team and a 5-0 thrashing of a resiliant and vastly improved Bolton team, sounded a message to the rest of the league, and Europe beyond.

But how good are United?

I mean, really, how good are they?

Well, with the additions of Phil Jones and Ashley Young, they are certainly better than the championship winning team and Champions League finalists of last season.

David de Gea has had a slow start, but he will undoubtedly prove to be a great signing- people forget he is only twenty year old- young, especially for a goalkeeper.

Young, in particular has been in fine form- dragging United to a victory against West Brom, being equally impressive against Spurs and excellent against Arsenal.

Phil Jones though, shouldn't be overlooked- against Bolton, starting at the unfamiliar right back position, he ripped apart the far more experienced Paul Robinson, setting up two with a fantastic delivery and mazy run respectively, whilst also contributing to a clean sheet.

United seem to have a more youthful look about them this season- not only with De Gea (20) replacing Van Der Sar (40) and the addition of Jones (19). But academy players Cleverley (22) and Welbeck (20) back from loan periods have come straight into the first team and impressed. Not to mention Chris Smalling (21) doing so well at right back he earned two England caps.

I haven't even mentioned Wayne Rooney.

Two hat-tricks in his last two games- a goal in every Premier League game this season- need I say more?

The style of football United are playing is not only effective, but beautiful to watch- Nani's goal in the Community Shield was full of inter-play and passing Barcelona would have been proud of.

And so we come to it.

The elephant in the room.


Are they better than the European Champions?

Well first things first- United are better than City.

Despite City's impressive start to the season (and it has been incredibly impressive), I expect them to fall away at some point during the season.

Mental toughness is United's biggest weapon- and that has been earned through experience, not bought.

As the winter sets in, Sergio Aguero gets a taste of the English weather and Yaya Toure jets off for the African Cup of Nations, I can see City falling away- not by much- but I think points will be dropped.

So back to Barcelona.

The bane of Ferguson (and probably the reason he's staying on).

In last season's Champion's League final, United were schooled.

It was a performance that illustrated the gulf between the Catalan club and the best of the rest.

So now.

Have United closed the gap?

The short answer is yes, I believe they have- although Barcelona have undoubtedly strengthened, I think United have done slightly more- not to mention the gradual evolution of their youth players.

But still, I don't think United are as good as Barcelona.

United are good, Barca are better.

Despite throwing away of 2-0 lead today and coming away with a 2-2 draw, Barcelona just seem to be on another level to everyone else- even the seemingly unstoppable United.

The gulf in class so massive last season, it may take a few years before this crop of Fledglings can challenge Barcelona's dominance of Europe.

But challenge they will.

Experience is key, and I see a couple more lessons in Europe needed before Ferguson can get his hands on that famous trophy for the third time.

So how good is this Manchester United team?

They'll probably win the Premier League this season.

They're better than last year.

But they're still only the second best team in Europe.

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