03 September 2006

On Mascherano and Man United

Word’s come out today from David Gill that Manchester United turned down Javier Mascherano twice this summer. Seems odd they've trotted out the chief executive on a Sunday, and it comes off almost as spin control, as for another season, United’s fans seem to be disheartened at the lack of signings in central midfield. Mascherano’s name had been mooted by fanzines and dodgy internet sources all summer long, and it was quite the shock when he and Tevez signed for West Ham. So Gill’s been sent out to claim how United never wanted him, never heard of him, and are very happy with their midfield thank you very much.

Michael Carrick will be a good addition to United, but £18.6m, even if it is around £14m upfront, is a shocking fee for him, especially when you consider what Tottenham paid for him. And people wonder why teams increasingly buy foreign players, the British market has gone insane. Even with the addition of Carrick, it still seems like United’s midfield is lacking. Carrick’s passing and vision will open up the field, but he’s never been the most lauded defender. Ronaldo, Giggs, Park, Scholes, and Carrick are all attacking players, and Darren Fletcher, even if he does look improved so far this season, will never strike fear in the heart of a Premier League side. I’m still doubtful of Mascherano’s (and Tevez’s, to a lesser extent) ability to settle in England, but for Gill to come out and claim a player with the defensive talents of Mascherano 'wasn’t required at the club' is laughable. On paper, the team appears to require exactly the type of player Mascherano is.

It’s always dangerous to question United though. Before the season, I’d seen predictions with them as low as 4th or 5th, unheard of for them in the Premier League. I’d thought they’d slip this year, but so far they look to be doing no such thing. Wins over Watford, Charlton, and Fulham are no reason to be making measurements for the trophy case, but United are the only team with 9 points out of 3 games, scoring 10 goals to boot.

I’m afraid the first month of the season is becoming more important than ever before. It appears it’s going to be a very tight race this season; there's always Chelsea, United, Liverpool and Arsenal, and Tottenham, West Ham, and Everton all look to have bought well. Last year, Liverpool was doomed by going 1-5-1 through September, and I see the 1-1 result at Sheffield United and want to overreact. Chelsea’s already lost away at Boro, last year they didn’t lose until November and didn’t lose again until February (away to Boro; must be nice to be Chelsea's bogey team). Arsenal’s looked uninspired in a draw at home against Villa and a loss away to Manchester City. And when United wins their first 3 games with a goal difference of 8, you can’t help but worry.

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