After Manchester United’s comfortable victory over Newcastle United in their opening Premier League match, Sir Alex Ferguson’s attention will now fully focus on what’s to come during this first sector of the season. What follows their win over Newcastle are is a succession of away fixtures that bamboozled United last season and that could threaten to derail their season this year, before it has barely begun.
This run of fixtures starts on Sunday with a trip to Craven Cottage, venue of their heaviest defeat in the league last season; a crushing 3-0 reverse as Roy Hodgson continued to work his magic at Fulham. Mark Hughes is the new man now, and after Michael Owen’s heroics against Hughes’ Manchester City team last season, the Welshman will be eyeing up some revenge.
After a home meeting with West Ham United, The Red Devils travel to Everton, scene of a 3-1 defeat by David Moyes’ men last season. In fact United have become unstuck against The Toffees on more than one occasion in the Premier League and given this, supporters will be willing United to come away from the fixture unscathed. Finally, the other side of Stanley Park is the location for the third of United’s tough opening away fixtures, against Liverpool. Hodgson might be new at the helm, but the aim of beating United still remains, and under the former Inter Milan boss, who can so often be classed a tactical master, The Reds are likely to still be tough opposition. Over a season, United would probably be delighted to come away from this trio of fixtures unbeaten, but as they are all stringed together, and with Chelsea appearing to already be in their stride, Ferguson’s men can ill afford to be bogged down, and lose ground to their title rivals in the early weeks of the season.
How long Paul Scholes can start putting together match-winning performances, as Wayne Rooney struggles for form, could be crucial to United’s success in this opening part of the season. The 35-year-old has produced two vintage performances in the past week, helping to dismantle Chelsea in the Community Shield and then Newcastle in the league on Monday evening. His metronomic passing and unique vision means he’s intrinsic in the team opening up defences, and while the club might have missed out on German Mesut Ozil, whose move to Real Madrid was finalised this week, they have their own pass master initiating every attack.
The worry will be whether these performances can continue for the remainder of the season because without him United are short on creative flair. It is uncertain whether Antonio Valencia has got over his fitness problems that blighted his season last year, and with Nani still yet to find a consistent cutting edge, Scholes is quickly becoming indispensible to United’s cause. It might be foolish to question the creative ability of a team who have consistently produced exciting attacking football, but the performance of ‘the ginger ninja’ was of such class you wonder who will fill the void when he’s unable to make the starting eleven, let alone when he finally makes his footballing bow.