Ahead of The Big Match™ on Sunday, the SB Nation Manchester United blog, the Busby Babe reached out to do an exchange Q and A session. Our answers can be read here, while the questions that our writers and community members came up with are answered below by their site editor, Gene Um.
The Short Fuse: How much time do you think Welbeck and Cleverley will get this season with Anderson seemingly back in the mix, and the Little Pea coming back?
The Busby Babe: Sir Alex Ferguson has already commented about his selection "problem" when everyone returns to full health. To this supporter, that certainly is a nice "problem" to have. At the current moment, it appears that Welbeck, Anderson, and Cleverley are first-choice over the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, Ryan Giggs, and Michael Carrick. I think some of that is just letting the experienced players ease their way into the season while some of the younger guys are being rewarded for a tremendous preseason and early Premier League season performances. Going forward, there will certainly be quite a bit of squad rotation as this club is fortunate enough to have incredible depth. There was a pretty clear first-choice side last season for the run-in but it's impossible to say who exactly is first-choice now. This much is known, nearly everyone will play and get a chance in the early portion of the season. If some players players fail to inspire, some likely go out on loan in January or are possibly sold.
TSF: With Danny Welbeck getting the start against City, WBA and Tottenham, has he pushed Dimitar Berbatov even further down the pecking order? Do you think Berbatov will stay past this season, especially if the likes of Diouf and Macheda begin to perform?
TBB: I actually feel sympathy for Berbatov. When we were playing some lackluster football in the early portion of last season, he and Nani pretty much carried the attack. United doesn't win the title without them. It certainly appears that Berbatov is now 4th choice behind Wayne Rooney, Chicharito, and Welbeck. Also, Michael Owen even made the bench ahead of him at Wembley for the Champions League final. I think Welbeck is starting now because of two reasons: (1) he fits in well with Rooney, Nani, and Ashley Young for an extremely fast and fluid attack. (2) Ferguson is simply rewarding him for a great attitude and the quality he's exhibited. He wants to see what he has in the 20-year-old.
I think they'll extend Berbatov's contract an extra year beyond this current one (United have an option to pick up an extra year) so that they can try to get some kind of return if he were to leave. He's saying all the right things publicly and he doesn't sulk on the bench during matches - but it's got to be killing him inside is my guess. If he doesn't regularly feature, it's hard for me to see Berbatov lasting at United beyond next summer. Mame Biram Diouf and Federico Macheda will have a difficult time cracking the lineup due to the earlier mentioned strikers. Perhaps another loan spell would be beneficial to both youngsters. I'm not particularly high on Diouf but Macheda has me curious.
TBB: My guess is the same back four as last week versus Spurs. Patrice Evra at left-back, Chris Smalling at right-back, and Jonny Evans and Phil Jones the center-back pairing. Fabio, who was the first-choice right-back late last season, is also a possibility at right-back with Smalling possibly sliding into the center. Smalling shut down Gareth Bale this past Monday and both Evans and Jones were stellar as well. We have tremendous depth at center-back and the emergence of Smalling at right-back, particularly against City and Spurs, has alleviated some of my concerns about full-back depth. I was quite sad to see John O'Shea go. He was a humble squad player.
TSF: A very youthful United side gave Tottenham a serious beating this week. Can you give a rundown of the ManU bench this season and what has changed from last season?
TBB: To be fair to Spurs, we failed to inspire in that first hour against a side that didn't have Luka Modric. The opening goal sparked us and after Harry Redknapp made some positive changes, we split them open for more goals. It really was just a good final 30 minutes for United. As mentioned earlier, I'm not quite sure who our ideal first-choice is and who our bench is. The youngsters in defense, the ones who played against Spurs, is still likely a top 3 back four in the Premier League. Along with the depth up front, we also have quality depth in the wide areas: Nani, Young, Park Ji-sung, Antonio Valencia, and Giggs. In the middle, I don't think the situation is as dire as some claim. I like the youth in Anderson and Cleverley and I love the Carrick and Giggs partnership. With Darren Fletcher (hopefully) returning to health, he provides another solid option in the center of the park.
For the final 5 months of last season, United played mostly in a shape that evolved from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-1-1. The main tactical highlight of this was Rooney dropping deeper than he ever has and pretty much acting as a number ten between the lines. Chicharito played off the the last defender's shoulder and stretched the opposition's back line creating this space for Rooney. So far during this season, and during the glorified friendlies versus City and Barcelona, we've played an extremely fluid and interchangeable 4-4-2. Rooney is playing higher but both him and Welbeck keep dropping deep to both link play and create space in behind them for midfield runners. It almost looks like a 4-6-0 at times. I have concerns about defending versus sides like Arsenal though with two flat banks of four. In my opinion, this was our undoing last season at the Emirates. Sides that employ both a false nine along with 3 in the center tend to give us trouble. I do wonder if Ferguson reverts back to more 4-3-3/4-5-1 this season for "big matches." This is something he did quite a bit prior to last season.
TSF: What are your early thoughts on David De Gea? If he continues to make mistakes, will Anders Lindegaard get a chance?
TBB: If it were completely based on merit, and not with consideration to £££ or possible shaken confidence, Lindegaard probably deserves to start. Or at least a more legitimate shot. Having said, I think the media has been much too quick to jump on de Gea. Yes, de Gea has given up two soft goals and his command in the box is uninspiring, but to already compare him to Massimo Taibi is quite frankly, horrible journalism. I'll admit that I have my concerns over de Gea for this season and I've been critical of him as well, but I'm willing to give him a chance because the talent is obvious in the 20-year-old. The big concern is that United expect to win trophies this season and how much error would Ferguson be willing to put up with? This I don't know. He was fine last week versus Spurs and if he performs well against Arsenal and Chelsea in a few weeks, then that should go a long way in building his confidence. Away to Stoke in September could be interesting though....
TSF: Why do people hate Michael Carrick, the man who Xabi Alonso has praised?
TBB: Carrick certainly seems to divide opinion. For me, Carrick is a very good player, and just short of elite for his position. He certainly is a confidence player - his form varies drastically and perhaps due to his confidence at the time. He's not a crunching tackler in the mold of Roy Keane, but his tackle numbers are always high and ability to read the game allows him to have elite interception numbers. He doesn't operate quite as well in tight space nor have the exceptional passing range of Paul Scholes, but who does besides maybe Xavi?! But, Carrick is incredibly tidy with his distribution and he can ping the long diagonal ball to the flanks for our wingers to run onto. If Carrick is good enough for Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta, he's certainly good enough for me.
TSF: Finally, what is United's expected lineup on Sunday? Does Fergie go back for the traditional 4-3-3 against Arsenal, or does he play Rooney and Welbeck/Hernandez, with Rooney dropping deep? Also, what's your expected result for Sunday?
TBB: Guessing the boss' lineups and tactics can be a futile exercise. But because we have played well in the preseason and the early portion of this season with this fluid 4-4-2, where Rooney and Welbeck do well to get back and pick up the deepest midfielder, my guess is the same lineup that came out against Spurs. But nothing would surprise me with Ferguson -- a 4-1-2-3 is certainly possible with Rooney leading the attack line as a false nine and Carrick holding. My expectation at Old Trafford is always 3 points, no matter who the opponent is. With Arsenal seemingly reeling, I'd be quite disappointed with anything less than a victory. I'll guess 2-0.
TSF: What are United's expectations for this season?
TBB: Expectations are certainly high for this season. Anything less than the Premier League title will feel like failure on the domestic front. A domestic cup would be nice as well because of the quality depth that we are fortunate enough to have. As for Europe, a defeat to any side that is not Barcelona or Real Madrid would feel like failure as well. It would likely be expected to the former but the latter feels like a relatively even test right now. Time will tell though possibly. For the sake of my own health and for my poor heart, I pray we avoid Barca again.