The 2013/14 Premier League season is finally upon us, to the delight and glee of football enthusiasts across the country. However, as fans get ready to travel the length and breadth of England in support of their most treasured club, something feels different.
Could it be that the England Under-21's finally managed a good result this summer, following their disastrous performance at the European Under-21 Football Championship in Israel? What about Real Madrid's interest in a Welshman? It's not as if that's a regular occurrence. I've got it: Manchester United are without Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm for the first time in 26 years.
Former Everton manager David Moyes takes charge of Manchester United this weekend, as the Red Devils travel to South Wales to contest with last season's League Cup winners Swansea City. The world's media attention will be fixated on the Liberty Stadium with the possibility of an early upset caused via poor team selection, or mediocre tactical instructions.
Manchester United Team News:
Ashley Young - foot injury
Rafael - hamstring
Javier Hernandez - hamstring
Nani - groin/pelvis
Nick Powell - leg
Darren Fletcher - bowel
Swansea City Team News:
Jonathan de Guzman - Concussion
An eye infection caused Michael Carrick to miss England's 3-2 victory over Scotland on Wednesday night, but the midfielder should make the starting line-up on Saturday. It hasn't been a straightforward preseason for David Moyes in terms of injuries, highlighting a possible weakness in United's armour ahead of next season: Do they have enough strength in-depth to challenge both domestically and in Europe?
Jonjo Shelvey and Pablo Hernandez have recently suffered with illness, but both should be fit, offering an extra layer and dimension to Swansea City's attacks.
Manchester United had a turbulent end to the 2012/13 Premier League campaign, picking up six points from their last five fixtures, with the final 5-5 thriller away to West Albion signalling the end of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign as United manager. In contrast, Swansea City could only manage three points from their last five matches, grabbing a victory against Wigan Athletic on 7th May after coming from behind twice to win 3-2, with goals from Itay Shechter and Dwight Tiendalli.
During their two encounters last season (Swansea City 1-1 Manchester United, and Manchester United 2-1 Swansea City), the Swans dominated the tackling department, with an average tackle success of 87%, while Man United could only muster a mediocre 72% average tackle success.
Swansea City only managed two shots on target at Old Trafford, but tested the reflexes of David de Gea a total of nine times at the Liberty Stadium last December. If the home side can win the same number of personal duels, while achieving a similar number of shots on target, we could be in for a thrilling encounter!
However, a possible cause for concern for Swansea City fans could be their inability to threaten from set-pieces, with only five goals hitting the back of the net from dead-ball situations last season. Manchester United, on the other hand, scored 26 set-piece goals—the highest total in the Premier League.
While the most dangerous player in terms of goals will be last season's top goalscorer Robin van Persie, I believe that the battle will be won and lost throughout midfield. Michael Carrick has the talent, passing range and technical qualities to control the match from deep, central midfield zones—orchestrating his team's advances towards the opposition's goal, and it will be the job of Michu, and new signing Wilfried Bony, to hassle the England international in order to stop him dictating play.
Many people have bemoaned Manchester United's midfield and lack of new signings, but Carrick has an abundance of attacking and defensive qualities to dictate play and win matches on his own. He may not possess the ability to surge past his marker, but he gives United a solid platform from which to build from the back, achieving the second highest amount of completed passes (2,397) in the Premier League last season, behind Arsenal's Mikel Arteta (2,429).
Judging by the closeness of their previous encounters during the last campaign, my prediction is a 1-1 draw. However, if Swansea City aren't alert to the runs of Robin van Persie, and their midfield give Michael Carrick time on the ball, David Moyes may just leave South Wales with all three points.