Manchester United: Top 6 Most Important Players for the Red Devils This Season
After some frantic activity early on in the transfer window, Manchester United's preseason form suggests that their now replenished squad looks ready to challenge for honors in the new season. But who are the key members of the team who can help the Reds win their 20th title?
As the transfer window draws to a close, Sir Alex Ferguson has reiterated that he is happy with his current bunch of players.
The Scotsman is convinced that the players he has at his disposal can carry forward the legacy of recently retired legends—Edwin van der Sar, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.
Sir Alex, who has always believed in youth, has given a new look to the Manchester United squad this season with an influx of youngsters over the last 12 months.
United now has a good blend of youth and experience. Preseason matches showed that the new-look team is gelling well together and seems to be heading in the right direction.
The Red Devils began their title defense as favorites and are unanimously considered the team to beat this season.
If United are to successfully defend their title, here are six Reds who will prove vital in doing so.
Defense: David de Gea
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David de Gea, 20, was bought by Manchester United at the club record price for a goalkeeper—£18 million—to replace Edwin van der Sar.
In short, the Spaniard had it coming.
It doesn't matter that the young shot-stopper won the Europa League last year and the Euro U-21 Championships this year. It doesn't matter that he is considered as Iker Casillas' replacement in the Spanish national team.
If you play for Manchester United, you have to be bloody good from the start! The smallest of your mistakes are going to be highlighted and blown out of proportion by everyone and their granny.
Two games in, and the fans are already calling for his head!
Hold your horses...err...bulls, folks!
Ferguson and his team scouted for months and months before finally fixing on de Gea. They must have seen something in the 20-year-old that they've immediately pushed him into the giant gloves of van der Sar.
De Gea is playing in a completely different league from what he is used to. If he didn't know that already, he sure as hell must have gotten an idea of what's to come after being shoved, flattened and trodden over by the Baggies on Sunday.
It's a challenge for the young Spaniard, and quite a big one—probably the biggest he's come across in his career so far.
De Gea knows that he has one of the most important and high-profile jobs in the Premier League. Being a Manchester United goalkeeper isn't easy, especially with everyone comparing you to Great Danes and Flying Dutchmen.
De Gea will be instrumental in United's quest for glory this season. How their season shapes up depends a lot upon the young Spaniard.
Having said that, given the appropriate time, I'm sure he will be a top keeper and justify his selection.
Defense: Chris Smalling
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I'm sure most of you are perplexed by my selection of Chris Smalling over more established defenders such as Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.
I'm not saying Vidic and Ferdinand are of any less importance to the team. They've been the backbone of United's defense for years and years!
But I feel Smalling will be instrumental to the team's success because of the role he plays for the club.
The 21-year-old Englishman, who arrived from Fulham last year, has already established himself as one of the most reliable members of the team.
Smalling is being prepared by Sir Alex to play a role similar to what John O'Shea used to play for the Reds.
Being a center back by profession, Smalling has been deployed as a full back as and when required.
He started the Manchester Derby last week at right back and shocked the 90,000 or so in attendance at Wembley and millions across the world with a stellar performance, capped by a goal which triggered United's fight back.
Smalling amazed the crowd with scintillating runs down the right flank and delivered a number of dangerous crosses. He linked up well with Nani on the right wing and seemed to be enjoying his new role.
With first-choice right back Rafael out with a knock, Smalling stepped in again for the first match of the new season against West Brom.
I must say the Brazilian is going to find it a tad difficult getting his place back in the side, given Smalling's recent performances.
With three first-choice defenders out with knocks already, it's players like Smalling who are expected step in and bring back the stability to the side.
Smalling made 33 appearances in his first season at Manchester United. Expect to see the Englishman a lot more this season.
Midfield: Anderson & Tom Cleverley
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I'm considering Anderson and Tom Cleverley as one entity in this list—Anderley, or Cleverson, if I may—reason being the duo combine so well together!
Sir Alex used the odd pair in the center of United's midfield quite often during preseason and I'm sure I'm not the only one to say that I was delighted with what I saw.
One of the first things you will notice about them is how well they complement each other.
Both lads are attacking midfielders by profession. But Anderson has the shown the energy and the strength to play a more defensive role, while Cleverley plays in a more advanced position. One goes forward while the other covers; and the best part about it is that they can switch their roles with ease.
I was particularly impressed by their link-up during the second half of the Community Shield. They did not allow the physical Manchester City team to bully them, and showed a good mix of aggression and composure. The same was true against the Baggies on Sunday.
Both players thrive on the touch-and-go style of passing and there seems to be a good understanding between the two. Being attack-minded, they show the urge to go forward with the ball but, at the same time, ensure that the defense isn't exposed by regularly tracking back.
The Anderson-Cleverley partnership looks promising. It looks to have brought the fluency factor into the United midfield that was lacking before.
I, for one, am very excited about the future and would love to see these two play together every week!
Midfield: Ashley Young
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I'll be honest with you—I wasn't particularly thrilled when Sir Alex signed Ashley Young this transfer window. I used to rate him as an OK player. Nothing great. Nothing deserving a place in Manchester United.
But I must say the 26-year-old has all but come up to my face and yelled, "Recognize!"
Young has gelled into the side as if he's been there for years! He seems to have grasped the Manchester United style of play pretty quickly and looks set to have a bright future with the Red Devils.
His CV describes him as a right winger. But in his short career at United so far, he seems to have already made the left wing his own.
Young brings balance and a superb delivery from the left wing. He flies down his flank with lightening speed, he tracks back, he tackles, he dribbles and he always makes himself available. Not only does he have a good composure with the ball, he's also a bloody good crosser.
His link-up with Wayne Rooney upfront has been phenomenal. I can't even imagine the magic that will conjure when he links up with Chicharito.
Young will have an important role to play in the Manchester United midfield this season. United is a side that thrives on their fluency and counter-attack down the wings and Young seems to fit the bill to the T.
I'm very optimistic about Young's future with United. He's young, he's got tremendous potential, he seems to have understood his role and is playing it incredibly well.
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Nani is the other protagonist plying his trade in Manchester United's famed flanks.
The Portuguese winger is coming off a breakthrough season at United where he scored nine goals and provided double the number of assists. His exploits last season led to him being voted as the Players' Player of the Year at United's annual awards function.
However, despite his heroics last season, Nani's future was uncertain for a few days after Young's arrival. Antonio Valencia had had a stellar three months after returning from injury and looked to be a sure starter on the other wing. It didn't take time for rumors to circulate about Nani's imminent departure from Old Trafford.
But the Portuguese took up to the challenge of fighting for his place and affirmed his desire to continue playing for the Red Devils.
With Valencia taking a knock during preseason, Nani grabbed the opportunity with both hands...err...feet and gave Sir Alex something to think about.
The 24-year-old dispelled all doubts in the gaffer's mind with an outstanding Man of the Match performance at the Manchester Derby in which he grabbed two of United's three goals.
He seems to be getting better day by day and has really worked hard on his consistency lately, giving Sir Alex a right selection headache.
Nani has earned his place as a big part of Sir Alex's plan for the future. If he can repeat or, better, improve on his performance from last season, he could forever free himself from the giant shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and earn a distinct place among the club's greatest.
Attacker: Wayne Rooney
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The exodus of United veterans at the end of last season has left 25-year-old Wayne Rooney as one of the more experienced members of the squad.
As Sir Alex brought in youngsters to replace the old guard and kicked off a new transition phase at the club, it's up to players like Rooney to take up a major chunk of the responsibility and help the newbies settle in.
Ferguson’s astuteness in deploying Rooney in a deeper role behind the main striker last season has opened up new possibilities for the England hitman.
Rooney is now handed a role similar to Paul Scholes' and he has willingly accepted the challenge.
The Englishman is perfect for the role. He has a Scholes-esque passing and shooting range, and is always looking to conjure an attacking move from thin air.
Being an industrious workhorse, Rooney is often seen scampering up and down the pitch tirelessly, winning the ball from the opposition on one end and then charging towards the other end with an eye on goal.
Now a senior member of the squad, and a striker at that, Rooney is expected to shoulder majority of the goal-scoring responsibility of the team. It's the kind of challenge the 25-year-old relishes.
Rooney opened Manchester United's goal account in the new season with a cool, left-footed curler against West Brom on Sunday.
Stay tuned for more, folks!