Skip to content

Early returns from England’s offseason tell a tale of two Manchesters

Jun 17, 2013, 7:39 PM EDT

FC Barcelona v Malaga CF - La Liga Getty Images

How much is Alex Ferguson worth in the standings? Or, more specifically, what will the difference between Ferguson and his replacement, David Moyes, mean to the Red Devils? Because if Ferguson was half as influential as his prodigious reputation implied, Manchester United’s going to take a step back. The big question is how much.

On one hand, trying to determine exactly how much Ferguson means over Moyes is a pointless exercise. We’ll never be able to verify our conclusion. On the other hand, it may be the most important evaluation United makes all summer. Before assessing their needs relative to Manchester City and Chelsea — before determining the financial commitment they need to make to maintain their English standing while improving in Europe — the Red Devils need to decide what they’ve lost. That may not result in a precise number of points they feel they’ve given back to their competition, but it will lead to a general plan of what they’d like to accomplish this summer.

I say “will lead” as if England’s champions haven’t already done this. Undoubtedly they’ve made their assessments and picked their targets, players that will go beyond the project right back they acquired last week. The Red Devils continue to have a need in central midfield. There are concerns wide, where their high-priced talents failed to produce last season. Unless they address those needs, either by getting more out of their players or acquiring new talent, the 11-point gap between them and Manchester City will prove smaller than it seems.

That’s why the relative silence from United should concern Red Devils’ supporters. While links to Marouane Fellaini, Robert Lewandowski, Leighton Baines and (even) Gareth Bale persist, most of those players have been linked elsewhere, with United’s place in the rumors serving as the normal “everybody sounds out Manchester United” part of most high-level gossip. Coming off a season in which they accumulated 89 points, it would be easy for the club to justify a stay-the-course approach.

Meanwhile, in the blue half of Manchester, United’s rivals have already made a number of significant changes. The acquisition of Jesus Navas from Sevilla may not be a huge upgrade on Samir Nasri’s talent, but stylistically, he offers City a significant difference from the two wide-to-in playmakers they played as winger last season. On the opposite flank of David Silva, Navas gives City a needed alternative – somebody who have beat a man one-on-one, pick out City’s snipers from wide, as well as open up the middle of the field.

Through the middle, that means more space for Silva to cut in and orchestrate. It gives Sergio Agüero and Carlos Tévez more room to play beneath the back line. It gives Fernandinho and Yaya Touré space to get forward without the side effects that come with keeping Nasri and Silva wide. With Navas, a natural wide player, the team’s balance improves.

The biggest upgrade, though, may be on the sideline, with Manuel Pellegrini replacing Roberto Mancini. Il Mancho is a well-decorated coach, but Pellegrini’s on a different level. Throughout his career, Pellegrini’s never failed to improve the teams he’s joined, be those teams big or small, ambitious or recovering.

Particularly with the acquisition of Fernandinho, City is starting to look like a very Manuel Pellegrini team. The midfield duo will be able to confidently use a possession-based game to dictate play without making compromises defensively. They’ll be able to play patiently, using their variety in attack to test their opposition, with Pellegrini uses the depth assured by City’s finances to mix-and-match over the course of a season.

The bigger concern with Pellegrini is the fact he hasn’t won a title at this level; that he may not know the buttons that need to be pushed to transcend that 11-point gap. But if the early summer moves from Manchestern United’s rivals mean anything, that 11-point reference is far less meaningful than it was at season’s end. With Ferguson gone, Pellegrini on scene, and City having already made two huge moves, surely the quality difference between the two sides is a much more manageable number.

The better part of the summer’s still to play out, but based on initial returns, the offseason’s been a tale of two Manchesters. The blue side has acted quickly to address their needs, while their red rivals are taking a more deliberate approach.

And of course, we can’t forget that resurgent power in West London.

Latest Posts
  1. Lee Nguyen’s goal lifts Revs to 1-0 win over Toronto FC

    Oct 25, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT

    Doneil Henry Getty Images

    Final: New England Revolution 1, Toronto FC 0

  2. MLS revives interest in signing AS Roma defender Ashley Cole

    Oct 25, 2014, 9:49 PM EDT

    452343856-490294

    AS Roma defender Ashley Cole has drawn the interest of MLS teams once again.

  3. Ronaldo hails Van Gaal, says Dutchman will make United champions ‘very soon’

    Oct 25, 2014, 8:48 PM EDT

    Cristiano-Ronaldo-513245 Getty Images

    Cristiano Ronaldo praises manager Louis van Gaal and is convinced that the 63-year-old will lead Manchester United to its former glory.

  4. Premier League Saturday recap: West Ham stuns Manchester City, Sanchez braces Arsenal

    Oct 25, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Short recap and highlights of Saturday’s Round 9 Premier League matches.

  5. Premier League Sunday preview: Manchester United vs. Chelsea headlines

    Oct 25, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    With three games on the slate, here’s what you can look forward to on Sunday.

  6. MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 1-1 DC United

    Oct 25, 2014, 6:18 PM EDT

    Marco Di Vaio, Patrice Bernier, AP

    Final: Montreal Impact 1, D.C. United 1

  7. Chicago Fire pleased with former Tottenham Hotspur Jaime O’Hara on trial

    Oct 25, 2014, 5:23 PM EDT

    ohara_1496113c Getty Images

    The Chicago Fire are seeking to bolster the strength of their roster, examining the possible signing of ex-Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Jaime O’Hara.

  8. Seattle 2-0 L.A. Galaxy: Pappa the hero again, Sounders win 1st Shield

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT

    MLS Galaxy Sounders Soccer AP

    A sleepy game for over an hour, Seattle and L.A. used the last hour to stage a contest worthy of a trophy-winning event.

  9. Gerard Pique calls his handball ‘unintentional’ in El Clasico defeat

    Oct 25, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT

    Pique Getty Images

    Pique speaks of his handball in Barcelona’s 3-1 defeat to Real Madrid: “It was unintentional.”

  10. LIVE ON NBC: Scoreless half has Seattle 45 mins from Supporters Shield

    Oct 25, 2014, 3:47 PM EDT

    @lagalaxy @lagalaxy

    The L.A. Galaxy and Seattle Sounders are scoreless through 45 minutes at CenturyLink in Washington.

  11. Leeds United ax manager Darko Milanic after six games at the helm

    Oct 25, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

    darko_3045587b Getty Images

    Leeds United have fired manager Darko Milanic after only 32 days leading the squad.

  12. Bundesliga wrap: Dortmund’s freefall continues, 9-goal thriller in Frankfurt

    Oct 25, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT

    FBL-GER-DORTMUND-HANOVER Getty Images

    Several fun games whet the appetite for a massive top of table Sunday tilt between Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach.

  13. Swansea City 2-0 Leicester City: Bony brace tames timid Foxes in Wales (video)

    Oct 25, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Swansea City v Leicester City - Premier League Getty Images

    Wilfried Bony scored both goals for Swans, 2-0, who cruised to the win against the suddenly-struggling Foxes.

  14. Watch Live: Seattle Sounders vs. L.A. Galaxy (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Oct 25, 2014, 2:07 PM EDT

    Obafemi Martins, Robbie Rogers AP

    Will the Sounders handle the Galaxy and expectations to clinch home-field throughout the playoffs?

  15. Southampton manager Ronald Koeman: “It’s fantastic” to be in Premier League’s second place

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:54 PM EDT

    Southampton v Stoke City - Premier League Getty Images

    “Maybe they [Stoke] created two possibilities, not chances and that’s a great team effort,” Koeman said of his Saints.

  16. Real Madrid 3-1 Barcelona: Real win El Clasico, Suarez returns

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT

    Pepe Pepe

    Despite going behind earlier, Real came roaring back to win the first El Clasico of 2014-15.

  17. WATCH: Bony and Sigurdsson team up for beauty versus Leicester on NBC

    Oct 25, 2014, 1:28 PM EDT

    Reading v Swansea City - Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    Watch and enjoy, then follow the second half live on NBC and online via Live Extra.

  18. LIVE – At the half: Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo have Real Madrid, Barcelona level

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:59 PM EDT

    Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga Real Madrid CF v FC Barcelona - La Liga

    Neymar and Ronaldo stealing the show so far, as four on yellows for Barca. Live updates, here:

  19. VIDEO: Manuel Pellegrini “not disappointed” by Manchester City’s defeat

    Oct 25, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY FBL-ENG-PR-WEST HAM-MAN CITY

    Pellegrini magnanimous in defeat, but City could be eight points off top spot by the end of the weekend.

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?