The New England Revolution are set to take on English Premier League champions Manchester United on Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium as part of the World Football Challenge. This friendly comes smack in the middle of an extended run of poor form for the Revs but shouldn't throw too much of a wrench in their fixture schedule as it will be 9 days since their previous match against Real Salt Lake. United, on the other hand, is in early preseason and will probably look like it, although manager Sir Alex Ferguson recently stated that he values results in every game his team plays.
Despite the match's exhibition status, the Red Devils have named a pretty strong lineup, including such well-known stars as Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup leading scorer Javier Hernandez to the travel squad, although Chicharito may be a no-show for the clash at Gillette as he will be joining the team while their USA tour is in progress. It will also be an opportunity for them to blood newcomers like goalkeeper David De Gea, defender Phil Jones and winger Ashley Young in a real-match environment.
I don't think I have to explain the areas in which Manchester United are most threatening. They're the second-best team in Europe according to the Champions' League and there isn't a single player named to their active roster for the WFC that wouldn't immediately walk into a starting role on any MLS team, let alone the Revolution, except perhaps the backup goalkeepers. Given that New England is in total disarray at the moment and Gillette is likely to be packed with thousands more screaming United fans than Revolution supporters, I'm pretty sure the scoreline is going to get ugly very quick for the home side. It should, however, be a very entertaining match for the neutrals and soccer fans everywhere.
According to the July 8th injury report, only Kheli Dube is a definite scratch as he continues to battle the lingering effects of whiplash. Ousmane Dabo is listed as questionable with his thigh problem, while Kevin Alston and Didier Domi are probable. An updated report will be released tomorrow.
We have a Q&A for you today. Gene Um of The Busby Babe, SB Nation's Manchester United blog, offered to do one and I of course took him up on his offer.
TBM: While there have been rumors linking Manchester United to all manner of players (Samir Nasri, for instance), the Red Devils have still been going about their business building the next juggernaut, having acquired David De Gea, Ashley Young and Phil Jones already this window. Which of these three newcomers do you see having the greatest impact on the squad this season, and will we catch a glimpse of that brilliance in Wednesday's friendly?
GU: Out of the three summer buys thus far, David De Gea is likely to have the greatest impact next season. The 20-year-old has enormous gloves to fill in replacing the now retired Edwin van der Sar - a player who he actually is compared to quite often - hence, the nickname "van der Gea" he was given by his former Atletico Madrid teammates. In 1999, United struggled to replace another legendary goalkeeper, Peter Schmeichel - it took six agonizing seasons, when van der Sar finally came over, to find stability between the posts. De Gea's talent is undoubted, but questions remain whether he can be handle the pressure at such a young age.
Ashley Young will likely have a vital role as well. His value lies in his versatility - he is able to play on either flank and he can also play withdrawn and behind a striker, a role that he had last season at Aston Villa. He may not always be first-choice, but he will see plenty of time on the pitch as United will likely play around 60 matches or so in all competitions. As for Phil Jones, the youngster will provide cover at center-back behind Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, and Chris Smalling. He can also shield the defense in a holding midfield role. Jones, along with Smalling, is the projected center-back duo to eventually replace Ferdinand and Vidic.
For Wednesday's friendly, Revs' supporters likely will only be able to see Young out of the newcomers. De Gea and Jones will join the club later in the U.S. tour - each have been given some time to wind down and rest after their involvement for their respective national teams in the U-21 European Championships earlier this summer.
TBM: Losing Paul Scholes to retirement is a major blow, for even in his advanced age he had the ability to completely take over a game. Who do you anticipate replacing him as the major creative force in midfield, or has that player yet arrived? If not, who do you think the United brass are targeting for that role?
GU: Quite simply, I have never seen a better central midfielder than Paul Scholes. Someday, when I have children, and if they show an interest in playing soccer, I will tell them to watch film of Scholes and Xavi - two of the best soccer brains ever. When Scholes' legs were still feeling well this past Fall, and even during the 2009-10 season, the midfield maestro was still dictating play as a deep-lying playmaker - it was absolute treat to see his vision and wide range of passing. It's a further testament to his soccer brain that he evolved from influencing matches from a position higher up the pitch to a role later in his career that was much deeper.
In a like-for-like sense, there is no replacing Scholes. A wide range of players, from Wesley Sneijder, Samir Nasri, Luka Modric, Bastian Schweinsteiger, etc have been linked with United. All are obviously fantastic, but none exactly provide what Scholes was able to in the past. Manager Sir Alex Ferguson is a fiddler when it comes to tactcs - he will use a 4-4-2-ish shape for most domestic matches, but he likes to use a three-man central midfield in Europe and against some tougher domestic rivals. Because of this, questions remain whether a player like Sneijder or Nasri have enough bite when United use a two-man central midfield - that's a lot of money to pay for someone who may be limited in what system they can play in. Both are brilliant, but the lesson Lionel Messi with Argentina has reminded us all is how important the right system is for any player.
One thing is clear though, United certainly need a creator in the center - it is of my personal opinion that it needs to be a player that operates a bit deeper - more in the Modric and Schweinsteiger mold rather than a Sneijder type. Who knows who we'll actually acquire though at this point.
TBM: Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez has been moving from strength to strength in his career with blinding speed. It's hard to believe that the "Little Pea" is just 23 years old, but he's rapidly become one of the world's most dangerous strikers, evidenced by his stunning 7-goal performance in this year's CONCACAF Gold Cup. Last season he was a key part of United's title-winning squad, but appeared to be used most often as an impact substitute. How do you see him fitting in to the gameplan at Old Trafford this season?
GU: For the final few months of last season, during the run-in, Chicharito was the first-choice striker as he formed a terrific partnership with Wayne Rooney. Ferguson used a 4-4-1-1 system during this time, with Chicharito stretching defenses with his pace and terrific movement while Rooney operated a bit deeper between the defense and midfield lines. In this sense, Rooney was almost acting as a number ten or trequartista. For this upcoming season, at least at the start, my guess is that this is the preferred shape once again. Thus, Chicharito likely will have a vital role. It is actually because of this role by Rooney, where he prefers to come deep and create, is why I feel it would be most prudent to buy a central midfielder that sits deeper.
Chicharito is obviously a gifted finisher and very few could have expected 20 goals in his debut season at United. However, the other invaluable trait that he provides, which I just briefly mentioned, is his intelligent movement. He likes to sit on the shoulder of the last defender, which in turn stretches defenses and creates more room for a deeper Rooney to operate in. This movement is not only vertical, but the Mexican striker intelligently moves horizontally as well to either combine with wingers or create space that he just vacated for midfield runners. He very well may have been the buy of the season last year in Europe.
TBM: I want to say "if you could have any player on the Revolution roster in uniform for United, who would it be?" but I'm afraid - considering how this season is going for New England - you might say "no one." So instead, I will ask this: if you had to take any Revs player and put them on the pitch for United, who would it be and why?
GU: To be honest, I have only seen one Revs' match this current season - the one in Seattle last month versus the Sounders. But the one player I have been incredibly impressed with over the past half-decade is probably what you would all say is a predictable answer - Shalrie Joseph. In my opinion, he has been the best MLS player in the center of the pitch during this time. I'm impressed by the bite he provides when he is deployed as a holding player, and I'm equally impressed by his tidy distribution. Perhaps more impressive for me though is his versatility - he appears to be competent all over the pitch. Because Ferguson is a fiddler with his tactics, Joseph's quality in combination with his versatility, is what would make him the best fit at United.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI for this match.
GU: Oh boy, lets see. Because of some players joining the U.S. tour at later times, and because no one outside the club is completely privy to each player's current fitness during this off-season (now pre-season for us), this is a very loose educated guess.
I do think United will genuinely compete and attempt to win this match. During his press conference today in Boston, Ferguson stated there are no friendly games for him because expectations are too high for the club. Enjoy the match everybody! I too will be watching the tour from Seattle next week!