EPL Season Preview: Manchester United

LONDON ENGLAND - AUGUST 08: I have an uncontrollable urge to pinch Chicharito's cheeks and soon enough most Manchester United supporters will feel the same way. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Team Name: Manchester United Football Club

Nickname: The Red Devils

Location: Old Trafford, Manchester

Ground: Old Trafford (Capacity: 75,957)

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson is England's longest-tenured manager, having been with United since 1986. The club were in something of a rut when Ferguson arrived, and after a somewhat bumpy start Sir Alex set United down the path towards being the massive club they are today. In his time with the club, United have won the Premier League 11 times, the F.A. Cup five times, the League Cup three times and the European Cup twice. Under Ferguson's guidance United have gone from being a popular team in England with a relatively successful history to being the most valuable football club in the world, and arguably the most popular as well. He's also been knighted, which is one of those things that, to most Americans, will never stop being weird and kind of awesome.

It would be a tremendous stretch to say that Sir Alex is universally liked; quite the contrary really, as Manchester United are a club that many people hate and it's difficult to separate Alex Ferguson from the club. I do think it is fair to say that he is universally respected, however, with the possible exception being Manchester City fans. It's rare to see a manager at a top club for such a tremendous length of time in this era of European football, and Ferguson is still relevant and innovative (in the context of England, it must be noted.) It might be easy for many to dislike the man, but it's difficult to find fault with his accomplishments.

Last Year's Record:

Premier League: 2nd Position

League Cup: Champions :(

F.A. Cup: Third Round, lost to Leeds United

Champions League: Quarter-Finals, lost to Bayern Munich

Brief History: Manchester United was founded in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR by employees of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway railway company. The club became Manchester United after being reborn from a winding-up in 1902. United experienced some success in the early days of the Football League, winning two league titles and an F.A. Cup prior to WWI. The club's first period of sustained success came under the management of Matt Busby in 1945.

Busby guided the club to league titles in 1951-52, 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an F.A. Cup victory in 1947-48. The 1957 side was the first English team to compete in the European Cup, reaching the semi-finals before falling to Real Madrid. Disaster struck the following year, however, when a plane carrying the team crashed in Munich shortly after takeoff, killing eight United players and 15 others. Busby survived and miraculously managed to rebuild the team as a contender in short order, with United winning the F.A. Cup in 1963 and the league in 1964-65 and 1966-67. In 1968 the Red Devils defeated Benefica to become the first English team to win the European Cup.

Busby resigned in 1969 and by 1974 United found themselves relegated. Their time in the second division was short lived, and United won yet another F.A. Cup in 1977. The club experienced some success in the early-mid 1980s under Ron Atkinson, winning the F.A. Cup in 1983 and 1985, but failed to live up to expectations in league play and Atkinson was sacked in 1986 to make way for Alex Ferguson. Since Ferguson's arrival United have evolved into the super club they are today. Legitimate threats to win any or all of the four trophies they will compete for in any given year, the only major honor United have not won under Sir Alex is the Europa Cup, which would be quite a feat indeed seeing as they play in the Champions League nearly every year.

All told, United have won 18 titles in the top flight, a record 11 F.A. Cups, four League Cups, two European Cups, one European Cup-Winner's-Cup and one European Super Cup. Their success is rivaled only by that of Liverpool in England and their profile is matched by few other sports franchises in the world. Manchester United are an easy target for hatred, but they've gotten to that point by being consistently excellent for one hell of a long time.

Players To Watch:

Wayne Rooney:

Say what you will about the man, he can play some football. Not the most technically brilliant player in the world, Rooney is the prototypical English Center Forward; he's strong, quick, aggressive, fearless, possesses a deadly right foot and is far faster than someone that looks like Wayne Rooney has any right to be. He's also capable of being kind of dumb, but he's generally able to overcome that through the power of his brute force. When he's not playing against your team he can be a joy to watch, but when he is he can be a holy terror. Rooney scored the goal that won the League Cup for United last season, and he did it through sheer force of will, in typical Rooney fashion. Much like his club and his manager, Wayne Rooney is easy to hate but it's impossible not to respect him.

Chris Smalling:

If United have a weakness it is the age of their back line; Owen Hargreaves,  Emanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are 29, Rio Ferdinand is 32, Gary Neville is 93. Smalling is just 20, and he's clearly thought of as a big part of the future at Old Trafford. Smalling was purchased from Fulham during the January transfer window and finished last season with the Cottagers. Smalling shouldn't be expected to make a huge impact during league play, but he's certainly one to keep an eye out for during the early rounds of the cup competitions. Smalling should be expected to be a fixture for United and for England in the coming years, and the fact that he can be mentored by Rio Ferdinand should be seen as nothing but a positive for his career.

Nani:

Nani arrived at Old Trafford with expectations of being a creative force on the wing and an ideal partner for Wayne Rooney, but injuries and clashes with Sir Alex have prevented him from blossoming into the player many have hoped he could be. United supporters will be hoping that this is the year that Nani can put everything together and fulfill his promise, but seeing as how he very nearly killed Stilyan Petrov last season I kind of hope he completely tanks and ends up being sold to Portsmouth for a set of away shirts.

Chicharito:

I haven't seen very much of Chicharito, but I have seen enough to know two things; he is scary good and he is incredibly adorable. I really wish he didn't play for United.

A Villa Fan Says..."Admit it-you know that should have been a red and that cup should have been ours."

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