The Big Four; any stronger than last season? Part 1 - United & Liverpool

The coming season could, on a few counts, prove the most interesting yet. Events here aside, three of the established 'big four' have sold key players, the other have a new manager and have just about hung on to their captain. Our ultimate aim this season will probably be to get as close to them as possible, perhaps we might. There's no doubting that our squad is a lot stronger in every department than this time last year. Whether any of them are quite ready to relinquish their seat at the big-table, well, we'll see...

United have, of course, sold a truly world-class footballer this summer. Ronaldo, love him or hate him, was/is a unique talent. He took his time, admittedly, the first two or three seasons he spent in England were mixed, with many getting on his back for being 'all tricks and no end product'. He then, and it doesn't really pain me to say this as a Blue, turned into an absolutely fantastic player. The petulance stayed, i think that's just him, but his final three seasons in England were spectacular, nearly a century of goals in little over 150 games speaks for itself, and for a winger to score 40 goals in a season, well, i don't think it will ever be repeated.

Losing him will be a huge blow to them lot. Their squad, in my opinion, isn't as strong as people like to make out. The likes of Foster, Kuszczak, Rafael, Fabio, Evans, Nani, even Anderson and others have done nothing to suggest that they are or will be top Premier League players. These could well prove the sorts who will have to step up to the plate if United are to maintain domestic and European challenges. In the past, as much as players like Wes Brown, John O'Shea & Darren Fletcher are perhaps underrated, United have relied on a select few to win vital games that mightn't be going their way, Rooney, at times Tevez, but mainly Ronaldo, and now two of those have left for pastures new.

Whether they can maintain their commanding form without their best player will have to be seen, but we know in our heart of hearts that writing Ferguson off generally backfires. His signing of Michael Owen is, for me, extremely canny. Owen's not a bad player, neither is he the walking wounded the press make out. He suffered two bad injuries at Newcastle, one cost him a season, the other a good few months. He's a player who suffers the odd serious injury rather than regular niggles. You have to bear in mind that he was playing in an awful side at Newcastle, and although the press and fans of United's opinions of the player have vastly altered in light of his recent move, i think he could be a valuable asset, even from the bench, and it wouldn't surprise me if he scored fifteen goals or more.

Overall, though, i think it would be fair to say United are weaker. Elder statesman like van der Sar, Neville, Giggs & Scholes are that bit older, Berbatov's, well, Berbatov, and there's no doubt that Ronaldo played a huge role, not only with his goals, but also assists and set-pieces. Luis Valencia is a fine player, but he's no world-beater. You get the impression that Rooney's form will decide their fate. He's the only attacking player they have capable of pulling that extra out when the pressure's on. It's undoubtedly a big season for him, if he's not on top form for most of the season they might struggle to keep up with Chelsea.

As for Liverpool, well, it's hard to say how they might fare. They did afterall only lose two games last season yet still finished four points behind the Rags. Their indifferent home form undoubtedly cost them the title. The 'easy' home fixtures where they dropped points perhaps showed the naivety of the side and manager.

They did, for most of the season, look like champions. They won games that previous Liverpool sides wouldn't have, Pompey away springs to mind, ditto their win at our place. They seemed to have an edge for the first time in years, the ability to dig deep and grind out results, and with Torres, and Gerrard just of him, well, at times spectacular.

To me they seem to be putting together a very solid side without necessarily having the squad depth of the other three teams who will probably again prove their main challengers, and i wonder if they can replace the Madrid-bound Xabi Alonso, or if Benitez has really strengthened where he needs to. At the back Liverpool are solid, but a replacement for Alonso will have to be found sooner rather than later, and he's always struck me as a player who both makes them tick and provides a vital link between midfield and attack.

What they do need, so far as i can see, is a general beefing up of their attacking options. They rely to much on their two best players. If Torres gets a knock they need someone who can come in and score goals, ditto with Gerrard, and they don't really look like addressing those issues, which i personally think cost them the title last season. Spending £18m on a moderately-good right-back, whilst selling another for less than a quarter of that might not really prove such sound business, and i wonder whether they can take last year's momentum into the new season.


  1. I think Benitez has boobed again. Probably forced Alonso out because he clearly doesn't like or get along with him. He's signed Johnson who has always looked good going forward, but, and this is why Chelsea dumped him, he is a very ordinary defender. Like his big money buy last year ... Keane, I can see Johnson being sold in January.

  2. Great post mate. Not least because you are one of the few that agree with me, against the general consensus, that ManU doesn't have a deep squad. Giffs, Schole, Neville are all spent, and Anderson, Nani, and others pencilled in to replace them aren't good enough. I don't think City will break into the top four this season, but if they do it will be at the expense of one of the clubs in the northwest, not one of the London clubs. I'm crossing my fingers that it's at the expense of your suburban neighbours. Good luck!