Alex Ferguson on the prowl for United
- Ferguson meets his match in battle of Manchester
- Ferguson learns from rare mistakes to master mind games with smile
His jaw frozen in mid-pulverisation of a petrified chewing gum. And despite all the recent anger about Ferguson’s kow-towing to the Glazers’ kleptocratic regime, no Manchester United fan will question whether he deserves to be cast in bronze.
Ferguson’s latest masterstroke was to deprive another football genius of iconic status by offering him the princely sum of £200 000 a week. Had Robin van Persie served out his Premiership career with Arsenal, he might have earned himself a nice kitschy monument next to Thierry Henry at the Emirates Stadium. Instead, he must now settle for a bunch of misshapen voodoo dolls in his likeness, lovingly crafted and impaled by livid Gooners in dark rooms. The fury of betrayal will sink deep – the Dutchman’s honourable exit route would have been to Juventus – but so will the cool £24-million currently soaking into Arsenal’s cheque account.
Arsene Wenger will surely indulge in another bout of retail therapy, having already brought home some paper bags containing Lukas Podolski, Olivier Giroud and Santi Cazorla. The runty Spanish brain box promises to reboot the Londoners’ old fluency, filling the critical playmaking vacancy left by Cesc Fabregas two years back.
Real Madrid’s spare midfield maestro Nuri Sahin may soon materialise on loan at Emirates and the addition of another established striker is now also on the cards.
If so, Wenger’s squad will be tidily balanced, but will the Gunners feature in the title climax come May? Do not bet on it. A cup of some sort is top of the agenda. The club’s scavenger status has been internalised and almost accepted by the fans, but some kind of shiny kill must be located – and sharpish.
United are still proper predators, more so with the arrival of Van Persie and the ingenious Shinji Kagawa, plus the return to fitness of the mythical beast known as Nemanja Vidic. The players will feel an urgent duty to lift the smog of dissent surrounding the club’s recent flotation and heal the trauma of Sergio Aguero’s last touch of last season.
As for Chelsea, they are still a bit dazed and confused by their freakish Champions League success in May, but Roberto di Matteo has a sobering renovation job ahead of him. His side should compile a viable title challenge if new signings Eden Hazard, Oscar dos Santos and Marko Marin settle much faster than one Fernando Torres did. Speaking of El Niño, he looks to have shaken off that weird psychospiritual fog, but he has fooled us all with a few false dawns before. Also, do old Frank Lampard and John Terry still have enough grease in their moving parts? We shall see.
Across London Town, the boy whose name is Luka has finally scarpered to Real Madrid, thus putting new Spurs manager Andre Villas Boas in an unpleasant fix.
Spurs without Modric are like a light bulb without an element. He was always going to leave, but having ample time to think does not make the task of finding a comparable replacement any easier.
Villas Boas will be grateful to have kept Gareth Bale and has introduced two nifty players: Icelandic goal-scoring midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, prised from Swansea, and cultured Belgian centreback Jan Vertonghen, who arrives from Ajax Amsterdam.
But unless he can scrounge and integrate a new Modric – the likes of Kevin Strootman of PSV Eindhoven and Bruno of Villarreal are being touted as low-budget pretenders – a Champions League slot is pretty much out of the question for Spurs.
Arsenal will remain convincing top-four material and Liverpool can only rise under the enlightened leadership of Brendan Rogers, who has made two modest but solid signings in Italian striker Fabio Borini and Welsh play-maker Joe Allen.
Newcastle United might also be in the Champions League race, having retained last season’s glittering attacking quartet of Hatem Ben Arfa, Papiss Demba Cisse, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye.
Expect a rabid scrap for third and fourth, but the question bothering many fans is whether champions Manchester City will allow the title race itself to be as intriguing. The sheer intensity of the league dictates that City’s major rivals will lose five or six games each. The meticulous Roberto Mancini has no such plans.
It is a chilling thought that they won last term despite the unhinged antics of Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli. And this time around, with both strikers apparently suffering attacks of sanity, Mancini’s range of options is even scarier.
The only visible crack in the Citizens’ wall is that Yaya Toure will probably have to take leave from the Premiership trenches from mid-January until mid-February to attend another Nations Cup tournament held on these shores. But such is the Ivorian’s power and expertise that he is liable to come home and fix any damage suffered in his absence. He is so irreplaceable, he replaces himself.
- Arsenal v Sunderland
- Everton v Manchester United
- Fulham v Norwich
- Manchester City v Southampton
- Newcastle v Tottenham
- QPR v Swansea
- Reading v Stoke
- West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
- West Ham v Aston Villa
- Wigan v Chelsea