Ah the classic boxing day clash. While many people sit at home with families eating the left overs from another memorable Christmas. Our heroes turn out to play for us, over the years there have been some right crackers of matches on Boxing Day.
So with that day looming, we sent out scouts to the red half of Manchester and Gene Um from The Busby Babe returned out call, and kindly answered some questions ahead of the clash.
The Glazers have got many enemies in the United camp, are you pro or for them? If so why?
On one end of the spectrum, United have won four league titles, three League Cups, and appeared in the final of the Champions League thrice since the Glazer family purchased the club in 2005 -- albeit with loans secured against the club's assets. On the other end of the spectrum, Daniel Taylor -- in a recent piece for the Guardian -- shockingly pointed out that United's net spending on transfers in the past five years is a mere £56.9 million. Yes, I realize 'mere' is relative but consider some other comparable net spending totals during this same time frame: Aston Villa £68.2m, Sunderland £62.7m, and Stoke £61.2m. In addition, there are the obvious big spenders: City £437.1m, Chelsea £144.9m, Liverpool £84m, and Spurs £76m.
So.... despite not being as vociferous about it as many other United supporters, I'm in the camp that hopes that they are able to sell. No other club in the world tops United currently in revenue and yet, it appears there isn't money to spend that is representative of this fact. Perhaps the past five years is the biggest achievement of Sir Alex Ferguson's managerial career because I believe his ability has masked the challenges the Glazers have presented him. There is an element of unknown though (to me at least) and who knows if the Glazer's eventual plan to float a part of United on the Singapore Stock Exchange will be fruitful or not... I'm no financial expert. I just want owners that can spend the profits of the club on good footballers rather than on the debt they owe due to loan interest that exists solely because of the nature of their purchase.
It was a very promising start to the season, but with injuries coming and fast, a young United side has struggled a bit. How do you feel the side will cope?
It was a actually a young United side that helped the club get off to a tremendous start. I believe the average age of the starting XI's that thrashed Arsenal and Spurs at the season's beginning was either just 22 or 23 years old. However, each of those North London clubs were struggling mightily at the time due to the drama of their transfer sagas. I think SAF felt that his young players were ready and that they would allow some of the older players to grow into the season. A combination of extensive squad rotation, injury woes, and tactics eventually led to a downturn for a club -- the peak (or low) of which was the derby disaster and the failure to get a result in Basel during the final match of the Champions League group stage.
As of late though, the club is finding form -- I would cite the recent results against Fulham, QPR, and Wolves as my example. Michael Carrick has found form and stabilized the midfield and the likes of Wayne Rooney, Nani, and Antonio Valencia have found their form as well in attack. I'm actually quite thrilled with 42 pts thus far from 17 matches -- that pace equates to 94 pts over a full season. However, City's 44 pts from a same 17 matches (98 pt pace) shows how impressive they've been. I think the top English clubs have some tactical weaknesses that are being exposed in Europe and I think this is manifesting itself as well in all of these high-scoring 'big matches.' United though, no longer have the worry (or privilege) of Champions League football this season so their proneness to being open -- specifically in the space between the lines -- is not as much of an issue in the short-term. The sole focus is now on league and FA Cup. If we can earn the full amount of points versus Wigan and Blackburn at Old Trafford over the coming week, I'll be thrilled with where we stand in league. If United earns 90 + pts (I have doubts that we will though) and still doesn't win the title.... well hell then, hats off to City (my other hand will be showing a middle finger though as I tip my hat).
One thing to keep in mind though... United face trips away to City, Chelsea, Spurs, and Arsenal in the latter half of the season. This is a big reason why it's vital that they pick up near the maximum points during this relatively favorable festive fixture list.
Does Sir Alex need to bring in some new players? If so what position and why?
Yes. Definitely yes.
Will he? Who knows if he has the funds to do so. Rumors persist that United will make a £30m swoop for Benfica's Nicolas Gaitain in June -- to which my reaction is that the price is a bit steep.
If United do buy in the upcoming January transfer window -- something that SAF rarely does due to his sound reasoning that value is generally poor at this time -- it is of my opinion that they need a deep-lying playmaker and a full-back. Carrick is the only player we currently have that can dictate a match from deep. His suspension for the Basel game was a glaring reminder that we can't be dependent on just having one player of his type. A Javi Martinez, Danielle De Rossi, Bastian Schweinsteiger (I hate spelling his name), Luka Modric -- players of similar ilk -- is what United need. They have players already that can provide drive and/or energy in Tom Cleverley, Anderson, Phil Jones, and Ryan Giggs and the talisman (Rooney) is already the player that occupies the space between the lines.
A full-back is needed to provide cover for Patrice Evra and the injury-prone da Silva twins -- Rafael and Fabio. This would allow both Jones and Smalling more time at center-back so they can provide cover for the injured Nemanja Vidic and the injury-prone Rio Ferdinand. Jordi Alba would be fun...
It's now a case of the noisy neighbours of City, in Manchester. What is your take on the blue half's rise to glory?
Rise? Most certainly. Glory, not quite yet despite their FA Cup from last season.
But obviously, they have a tremendous squad and likely, the most talented in England. It's certainly draws parallels to Chelsea in the noughties (or whatever the hell the 1st decade of the 21st century is called). Chelsea won trophies though with a briliant manager. City still have to win more trophies with a manager who is very good at the least, although not on Mourinho's level yet. However, City might have even more funds so who knows if they can eclipse Chelsea's success. They've raised the bar and I just hope that United is up for the fight as they were for Chelsea. SAF is almost 70 though... this scares the hell out of me.
How do you feel the current crop of United kids rates amongst the like of Giggs, Scholes, and Beckham?
Giggsy, Scholesy, Neville, and Becks might have been a once in a lifetime crop of kids. The FA Youth Cup winning side certainly has some promising youngsters -- specifically Ravel Morrison and Paul Pogba -- but it would unfair to compare them to the group from the early 1990s. Danny Welbeck looks to be a very promising homegrown kid and there is a group of other youngsters of quality that have been brought in that I'm high on: Jones, Smalling, da Silva twins (specifically Rafael), David de Gea, Cleverley, and Chicharito. I'm grateful to have these youngsters as a foundation. They all have talent but hopefully they have the mental makeup and ambition to keep getting better so that they can bring United trophies.
Where do you see yourselves ending up in the league come May?
My hope is that come April 28 -- during the 36th league fixture of this season -- that United will have a 1 pt lead when they trek over to the Etihad Stadium. At worst, I my hope is that they are within two points of City.
However, we'll see how the injury situation and the upcoming transfer window plays out. In addition, I'm a bit worried about the away trips I previously mentioned to the other Champions League contenders. On the surface of things, I may appear to be an optimist. However, deep down, I'm a pessimist. Therefore, I won't reveal my true gut-feeling prediction :)
I am confident though to predict that one of the clubs from Manchester will lift the trophy come season's end (hopefully the Red side).
Out of the current Wigan squad which players would you have, and why?
Well, I'm thrilled that Cleverley was returned and that you didn't kidnap him. Kudos to Wigan... he developed nicely during his time there. I'm a former goalkeeper so I have a lot of admiration for Ali Al-Habsi. Victor Moses is a tricky player and at his age (21?), his future could be bright. Jordi Gomez also appears to be another solid player. If I'm picking one player.... it's Moses with his age the deciding factor me.
What is your prediction?
United 3-0 Wigan
And finally what is your favourite flavoured pie?
Living in Seattle, there isn't a huge selection. However, there is an English Pub here (fantastic owners) that I frequent and the Sheperd's Pie there often hits the spot. Turning the question onto you.... What should I try the next time I'm in England?
If you ever in Wigan i would always recommend a good meat and potato!