Manchester United will begin its 2012 campaign away at Newcastle and will be looking for a win to get back on course in the title race after an unexpected home defeat to Blackburn Rovers stalled what had been a run of five wins in a row in the League.
Manchester United's first half of the season—while not being bad—has not been great either. United were dumped out of the Champions League and Carling Cup with losses to FC Basel and Crystal Palace respectively, and were outclassed beyond doubt by their biggest rivals Manchester City in their first meeting of the season.
Here's a look at five United players who will need to up the ante as United go into the second half of the season.
Being the captain of Manchester United entails turning out a certain never-diminishing level of performance in the training ground and on the field of play—and for whatever reason, be it tired legs, complacency or a lack of concentration, United's captain Patrice Evra has failed to perform at that level.
Silly defensive errors like soft free-kicks, pressing too high, not getting back quick enough or at all, have been a feature of Evra's game so far this season.
The man who was once Mr. Dependable—who played every single minute of every game in every Premier League campaign—is looking a touch slower and a couple of shades less interested. If improvements can't be made, then maybe changes should be made?
When I say "Do I need to say anymore?," it is not my intention to say that I'm disillusioned with David de Gea or that I'm one of those "fans" who want him removed from the face of the earth—on the contrary, I believe that de Gea is a good goalkeeper who will be a great goalkeeper—I just don't want to add fuel to a fire that did not need to be started.
That being said, mistakes due to naivete are still mistakes. Do I need to say anymore?
So when United signed the England international for £15-plus million, I was quite a bit perturbed by what I felt was a rush buy (£15-plus million?) for a guy who essentially was/is the poor man's Ronaldo. I said nothing at the time.
Then came the Arsenal performance that raised a few eyebrows, "Wow, this Young fellow is not as bad he might seem." Well, I know he has been out with injury, but 17 games into his United career, the Arsenal match remains his only highlight so far.
Oh, that, and his free-kick for United's first goal against Manchester City in the Community Shield. I think that tells a story of its own.
In the absence of Paul Scholes, United have struggled to find a suitable replacement with the relevant passing skills and game-control that Scholes had so much of.
Anderson, it had been touted, was some sort of answer to that conundrum. And it was claimed that if he could stay fit and get a run of games, he'd come into his own.
Well, he did stay fit for a while and did get a run of games but still nothing surfaced. Anderson hasn't quite found a way to exert his control on games in the way the likes of Modric, David Silva and Mata can do.
Anderson hasn't quite got the presence of a Xabi Alonso, Yaya Toure or a Xavi. So what has he got? Where was he when United lost 6-1 to Manchester City at home?
He's had a few good games—there's no disputing that; but when push comes to shove, it's hard to really count on him seeing as there's not much of a prior knowledge of what he can do (and he has being given chances to show what he can do) and you don't know what you'll get.
The big problem when it comes to Nani is how to manage his inconsistency.
It is clear to all who watch—and it's evidenced by Sir Alex's insistence in picking him—that Nani is capable of doing special things on the football pitch, what is not so clear is why Nani cannot reproduce week in and week out.
The Portuguese winger at his worst can find it exceptionally difficult to make simple passes, play quick ball and deliver corners that give his teammates a chance.
To add to that, Nani will hog the ball, slow down the team's momentum to a screeching halt and, even after 10 seconds of step-overs and colossal brain-wave activity, give the ball away.
Improvements are certainly needed. And by the way, Nani, it's MUFC not "N."