West Brom v Manchester United: Predicting United's Starting XI for EPL Opener
The start of the Premier League season is creeping ever closer to us and Manchester United—like all teams—will be looking to fine tune themselves in preparation for what is to come.
The successes of last season will have been celebrated, the disappointments will have been etched out of the players' minds and the goals for the new season will have been ingrained into the player's psyche.
Nineteen times the league champions, Manchester United will be fully aware that the beginning is just as important as the ending, and they will be looking to get as good a start as possible.
Here are my predictions for the starting XI for Manchester United's league opener against West Brom, with United using a 4-4-2 formation.
GK: David De Gea
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Most Manchester United fans I've heard and talked to are buzzing about the newly signed David De Gea—his ability, his confidence on the ball and his talent are clear for all to see.
In becoming the most expensive goalkeeper in the Premier League, it was quite clear from the onset that De Gea was going to be United's first choice stopper.
He will need to experience Premier League football as much as possible, and it makes sense that Sir Alex will want to start him against West Brom.
After the Community Shield match, De Gea spoke to journalists:
"Football is football here and in any country. I have to adapt quickly and improve on the whole of my game.
The two goals we conceded in the first half stopped us in our tracks, but in the second half, we were able to claw back, and I think that's the important thing, I'm very happy about the victory."
LB: Patrice Evra
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With 34 Premier League games—out of a possible 38—under Patrice Evra's belt last season and 37 games in the 2009/10 season the year before, with just the one appearance as a substitute both seasons, it's hard to see past another starting place for the French left-back against West Brom.
RB: Chris Smalling
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If you'd watched Chris Smalling's performances as a full-back at last weekend's Community Shield game and in Manchester United's preseason friendly against Barcelona, you would have been left with the distinct feeling that he was putting a lot of the established right backs in the league to shame.
Signed succinctly two years ago from Fulham, the England U-21 international has established himself as one of Sir Alex's up-and-coming youngsters.
Naturally, a center-back, it was telling that Sir Alex Ferguson chose to play Smalling as a right-back despite the presence of natural full-backs in the team.
With the question marks over Rafael's fitness still floating around, it stands to reason that Smalling will start Manchester United's first Premier League game this season.
CB: Nemanja Vidic
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Simply put, Sir Alex is unlikely to start without his captain.
CB: Rio Ferdinand
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Despite a bit of a poor showing in the Community Shield, Sir Alex understands and knows better than anyone how well Nemanja Vidic plays when Rio Ferdinand is by his side, so it seems the most logical choice to have Rio start the season.
To add to that, such a pairing wouldn't hurt David De Gea's confidence as he settles into the team.
LM: Ashley Young
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Watching Ashley Young against City in the Community Shield game, you couldn't help but feel that the 26-year-old had found his niche in the team and had fitted in seamlessly.
Even though Sir Alex Ferguson has shown a preference to playing Young on the left, I don't quite see any real competition for Young in that position right now—certainly not from Ryan Giggs or Antonio Valencia who doesn't play on the left anyways.
RM: Luis Nani
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With Antonio Valencia still on his way towards regaining full fitness, and Ashley Young preferred as a left winger, Nani is a shoe-in for this spot.
Nani's performances last season were, for lack of a better term, Ronaldo-esque, and his drive didn't waver during United's preseason either.
"He [Nani] is only in Ronaldo's shadow because he is Portuguese. He was never in his shadow in my mind. That is the only link I can see. He has always had great potential.
Some players take longer to mature than others. Ronaldo was an exception. He was an incredible footballer. He matured immediately, from 18 until he left us. Stage by stage, he got better and better."
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Anderson: United's belated and reluctant answer to Paul Scholes?
In my opinion, there should have been no reluctance. I know some like to think that the jury is still out on Anderson but, to be honest, there's no real basis to that.
The Brazilian's potential has threatened to show time and time again, but whenever it seemed like busting through, he just wasn't played. Sir Alex Ferguson has seemingly recognized these omissions and, rightfully so, Anderson is now getting his game time.
There is still a bit of tweaking necessary with Anderson—and it'll only come with games—but when he's ready, boy he will be ready!
MC: Tom Cleverley
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Tom Cleverley's performances against Manchester City and Barcelona in Manchester United's last two games have being nothing short of sublime.
Starting against the might of Barcelona and coming on as an impact substitute—at halftime—against City were quite clearly votes of the manager's confidence in his young up-and-comer, and I feel Cleverley will be rewarded for his good form.
He has been called up to the England squad for the friendly against Holland—and with Michael Carrick injured, a way has been paved for him to start United's first game of the season.
I, for one, have high hopes for Cleverley—in more ways than one; he is Michael Carrick's replacement.
SC: Wayne Rooney
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Typically, when Wayne Rooney is fit he is always played.
Sir Alex Ferguson knows better than anyone else the importance of having the 25-year-old playing in the team. One of a very few breed of players, Rooney is United's talisman, and incidentally, one of the best players in world football today.
I can't see Sir Alex not starting Wayne Rooney—the fire in his belly and he is keen to regain his standing alongside the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.
The man is on a mission.
SC: Dimitar Berbatov
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With Javier Hernandez still out recovering from his exploits with his native Mexico at the Gold Cup, Manchester United's striker options are limited to Dimitar Berbatov, Danny Welbeck and Micheal Owen.
It is true that Sir Alex preferred Welbeck to Berbatov in the Community Shield game against Manchester City at the weekend, but I feel it was simply because United needed more of a physical presence in midfield.
West Brom will not require the same level of physical exertion from United as City demanded, and this will be the telling factor. Berbatov was joint top scorer in the league last season; I'm sure the manager will want to start him.