Looking ahead to the game at Wembley by Philip Morrissey
Three years ago, a new Manchester United manager, set out to mark the start of the season. His side were to face opposition who had shocked the football establishment by winning one of the major trophies a few months previously. Today marks a similar feeling today. For the name of Moyes, you have to replace with Mouriniho. They team they face is not the FA Cup winners Wigan who stunned Manchester City, but reigning champions Leicester City.
The sense of expectation is completely different though. Although we had gone into the curtain raiser in 2013 as champions, there was the realisation that changes had needed to be made to the team. The ‘chosen one’ had inherited a squad that was in dire need of change to re-freshen it. Many of the players were pushing on in terms of age and others were not up to the task. Pre-season had brought up mixed results but significantly, no new faces by this stage. Attempts to raid his former club for Baines and Fellaini had been rebuked, and his lack of star quality was believed to have put off the likes of Sami Khedira, Thiago Alcantara and Ander Herrera. He had yet to impose his stamp on the club and many felt that it was going to be a transitional season.
‘So, seriously. Where is Alex Ferguson did you say?’
The level of confidence possessed by the new man could not be greater. Whereas the ex-Everton man had been deferential to the side he was now managing and the previous boss, expressing belief in himself has never been a problem for the Portuguese. Moyes had joined the club with a new vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, whose inexperience in the transfer market was obvious. When joining the club, Jose immediately set out his targets in terms of the players that he wanted and so far, all but one has been delivered on. Recognition of areas that he wanted to strengthen were set out and made clear. And yet pre-season has not gone as expected so far. The team were undercooked in the heavy defeat against Dortmund, burst into life in the second half playing Galatasary and struggled at times with dour and obstinate Everton tactics in the testimonial for Wayne Rooney.
The champions Leicester City (still feels strange saying that!) have also had a mixed bag in terms of preparation. Wins against League One side Oxford United and a penalty victory over Celtic, were followed by two heavy defeats to P.S.G and Barcelona. These are teams who they will be expecting to compete with in the champions league so perhaps it might have given them a slight reality check. Raids from bigger clubs saw Chelsea make off with midfield destroyer N’Golo Kanté. Arsenal’s attention towards Jamie Vardy were seen off but a possible swoop for creative star Riyad Mahrez might be still on. Incoming players included midfielder Mendy, plus attacking options Ahmed Musa and Bartosz Kapustka. Opponents will have examined their system to try and combat it and the weight of champions means that they are the team that everyone wants to beat. The tag of underdogs is one that they relished last year but that is one that cannot be used forever.
Keep it warm lads
Mouriniho will want to taste victory in this game. Of that there is no doubt. The defeat of Chelsea in this fixture last season set the team off on a poor start and put them under immediate pressure. From which both manager and players were never able to recover from. This is a chance to create a statement of intentions for the season to come and one that must be seized. Winning, no matter the competition, breeds confidence and creates a platform to build from. A defeat will only help to increase the pressure.