Can Man Utd’s defence live up to its attack?
One day someone will get it right. The latest guess – and it is a guess, no matter how authoritatively it is trailed – is that Sir Alex Ferguson has given himself two years to build his final great Manchester United team.
As statements of intent go, United’s signing of Robin van Persie is at the noisy end of the Richter scale. Though he is likely to start on the bench, the eyes of the football world will be on him, and his celebrated manager, at Goodison Park tonight.
It is often a pivotal fixture for United and Ferguson, whose affinity with David Moyes involves similarities in character and upbringing. His admiration for the way his fellow Scot sustains Everton against all financial logic is tinged with irritation because of the nature of the challenge Everton present.
The clubs have history. Ferguson infamously withdrew Wayne Rooney from a trip to Goodison to spare him from abuse. He has neither forgiven, nor forgotten, the late lapses which caused United effectively to hand Manchester City the title by allowing Everton to snatch a 4-4 draw at Old Trafford in April.
Tonight’s match is likely to be complicated by the late withdrawal of the increasingly injury-prone Rio Ferdinand, who picked up a groin problem in training. For all their attacking intent, United still look vulnerable at the back.
This is a critical season for David de Gea, who has never convinced in the United goal. The nagging doubts, which centre on his physicality and occasional lack of composure, must be answered, and answered soon.
Patrice Evra, whose decline has accelerated this year, may well be pushed to the margins by another new Dutch signing, £4m Vitesse Arnhem defender Alexander Buttner.
Michael Carrick, who may have to fill in at centre back tonight while the likes of Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones regain fitness, also has a key role. His under-rated excellence in central midfield marks him as a pivotal figure.
Ferguson has vowed never again to lose the title on goal difference and this United attack will be irresistible against some of the weaker Premier League teams. But, even taking the vagaries of the opening day into account, United have a pertinent question to answer at Goodison: will they let too many in at the other end?
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Watch Man Utd live on BT Vision:
Everton v Man Utd, 7pm, 20 August, Sky Sports 1
Southampton v Man Utd, 3.30pm, 2 September, Sky Sports 1
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