How important is Darren Fletcher to Manchester United?

Darren Fletcher made his return for Manchester United against Newcastle United in the Capital One Cup so will his return help the club win trophies this season.

Obviously he has only played one game so it is too early to see whether he will be able to play on a regular basis but it is a good sign that he was back on the pitch. Fletcher has been a vital part of the United side for a number of years now and has almost always been an automatic choice for the big games in Europe and Premier League. But why is he so important? I am going to compare the Scotland international with some of the other options Alex Ferguson has.

His rivals for the central midfielder spot are Shinji Kagawa, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Anderson and Tom Cleverley. Nick Powell, could also be considered in the central role but he won’t be starting many games and will be utilised a lot from the bench if he does get the chance to shine. So, let’s start with the summer signing, Kagawa. This is a tough one to call because Kagawa has already proved that he can be very creative and make things happen but if they only play two central midfielders then he may be a liability if he doesn’t stick to his defensive responsibilities. So, in the bigger games I believe Fletcher will start over Kagawa if he is fit unless either Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie are dropped and they switch to three in the centre of midfield. But, in other games, particularly at home when they are expected to have a lot of possession, this could be the perfect combination as we all know Fletcher will work himself into the ground and let Kagawa dictate play.

In the big games I could see Fletcher starting alongside Michael Carrick as both are decent passers and like to keep the ball ticking over, so they will be vital in keeping possession, especially away from home in Europe. But, if these two lined up against a bottom half Premier League team it would be a shock as neither have got that many goals over the years, however, at times Fletcher has proved he can grab vital goals so this tactic could work. Paul Scholes shocked us all when he returned from his retirement part way through last season and I think out of the options his preferred partner would actually be Fletcher because of his work rate and determination, allowing him to play his natural game and control the tempo of the game while also being safe in the knowledge that Fletcher will cover enough ground for the both of them.

Onto the two players that I believe will once again find themselves far down the pecking order, Tom Cleverley and Anderson. The Brazilian has flattered to deceive at Old Trafford and nobody is really sure at what he is all about, even though he has been at the club for a while now. This because he isn’t disciplined enough to play the holding role and leaves big gaps in front of the back four and when he is played in the advanced role he doesn’t influence games enough, so if Fletcher can regain form and fitness then this could be the last season Anderson is at the club in my opinion. As for Cleverely, I am still not convinced by him for exactly the same reasons but he is definitely improving and if he played next to someone like Fletcher he would get even better because he would have to exert as much energy in defending when playing with someone like Anderson, Kagawa or even Scholes. In my opinion, he has also struggled slightly playing alongside Carrick because all of the creative responsibility is on him, and that is a lot of pressure for someone his age.

So, the good thing about Fletcher is that he can compliment any of his fellow midfielders and a lot of his good work goes unnoticed but the management team and his teammates will understand what he does and it is clear to see that they are all very happy to see him on the road to recovery.

 

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Who will be relegated from the Championship?

A lot of big teams have been relegated from the Championship over the years including Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest and Southampton so nobody is safe really and anything could happen. Last year we saw Coventry City, Portsmouth and Doncaster Rovers were unable to stay up so who will it be this year?

Barnsley struggled in the second half of last season especially after the departure of Ricardo Vaz Te who was their talisman and top scorer so it is easy to see why they are one of the favourites for the drop. Losing Jacob Butterfield will also be a blow and they will need their experienced players to perform well if they are to stay up. One of their main signings of the summer Mido has also been injured and he is unpredictable anyway so they may to rely on the goals from Marlon Harewood and Craig Davies to keep them up.

Peterborough United did ok last year and manager Darren Ferguson will want them to push on however I see this as a season of struggle for them. They did ease past Southend United in the Capital One Cup beating them 4-0 so that will give them confidence but I think they may have took a little risk this year especially in the goalkeeping department as they have signed Robert Olejnik who was one of the best keepers in League 2 last year but he may struggle to step up and with their defence also not being the best it could be their downfall this year.

Another team that struggled for large periods of the season were Bristol City and they were defeated by Gillingham in the Capital One Cup so optimism can’t be high among supporters at the minute. They also lost one of their main strikers when Nicky Maynard decided to leave which leaves them with only three out and out strikers in Jon Stead, Brett Pitman and Ryan Taylor and none of these have ever been considered prolific. They do however have strength on the wings in Paul Anderson and Albert Adomah so if they can get these playing to the best of their ability then they do have a good chance of staying up.

Dougie Freedman in my opinion overachieved at Crystal Palace last year and I think it will be very difficult for them to achieve what they did last season and finish as high up the table and 21st place could be seen as an achievement this year. They have so far kept hold of Wilfried Zaha but I do expect a few teams to be interested in him before the end of the transfer window. He is key to them and I hope he doesn’t feel the weight of the expectation on his young shoulders and have a bad season.

Nigel Clough must be tearing his hair out at the moment after witnessing his team throw away a 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3 lead and still failing to beat Scunthorpe United in the Capital One Cup and eventually going out on penalties. I always thought they would struggle and I know it is only the cup but there is clearly something wrong at the back or at least in the confidence and concentration of their players. I doubt they will score five past many Championship teams but I do think they could ship five past quite a lot of them.

Who will win League 1?

Sheffield United unfortunately lost the playoff final last year on penalties against Huddersfield Town and are now facing a second season in League 1. But the team from Yorkshire are the favourites to win promotion and this is a very real possibility as they should really have gone up automatically last year but were just beaten to second place by neighbours Sheffield Wednesday. However, they were beaten yet again on penalties by Burton Albion in the Capital One Cup which will have surely damaged a bit of confidence in the camp. So far they have largely kept the same team as last year so will be very competitive and are rightly the favourites.

 

The nearly men of the division MK Dons will be hoping that this is their year and definitely won’t want to go through playoff heartache again. The play the best football in the league and love to pass the ball and Karl Robinson has to be given a lot of credit for that but at times they do seem to lack another option which cost them at times. The signing of Ryan Lowe could be crucial as he is a very good finisher and even though things didn’t quite go right for him at Sheffield Wednesday, I think he will suit his new clubs style of play.

Newly promoted Swindon Town are also considered one of the leading clubs in the division this year and with Paolo Di Canio in charge anything can happen there as he always demands the best from his players and his methods even though they can be slightly unorthodox seem to be doing the trick. The signing of James Collins and Andy Williams could prove to be a stroke of genius as they were brilliant defensively last year but didn’t have that striker to get 20 goals which they will need to get promoted from this league.

Bournemouth under Paul Groves could be considered contenders because they have a decent squad but I am still slightly surprised that so many teams are backing them because they don’t have a striker that has really scored a lot of goals in League 1 and their top scorer last year was Marc Pugh who got 12 goals. The team maybe didn’t quite live up to their chairman’s expectations last year so he will be wanting to see an improvement this time around.

Relegated Coventry City seem to have the best chance of all the teams that came down from the Championship last year to return at the first time of asking and this is definitely a make or break season for manager Andy Thorn who had to work with a lot of young players last year. Maybe they were always doomed because of this but Thorn definitely needs to put up a challenge if he wants to keep his job. They have signed a few decent players this summer, some with experience in Kevin Kilbane and others that had been tipped for big things like John Fleck so if they can get the right blend then the good times could return.

Who will be relegated from League 1?

League 1 may not have the likes of Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday or Huddersfield Town anymore but there are still some big teams with big budgets in the division and this makes it very hard for the promoted teams and those with lower budgets to have a good season.

But it is definitely one of the relegated teams from the Championship that are the favourites to go down. Portsmouth are in a lot of trouble and are barely still alive as a club never mind one that is in the third tier of English football. Who knows what their starting 11 will be at the start of the season and how many of them have any experience whatsoever. Manager Michael Appleton has the potential to be a good manager and will obviously come out of this with credit but he is fighting a losing battle.

Next are a team that have just been promoted to the league and that is Shrewsbury Town who have had an interesting summer with a few key players departing in particular one of their strikers James Collins who may have scored the goals to keep them up. So they will have to hope that Marvin Morgan, Terry Gornell and Ryan Doble can do the business in League 1. They have possibly their toughest fixture of the season first which is Sheffield United away so at least that will be out of the way early.

Walsall have been in League 1 for a number of years now and seem to be one of the clubs that will always finish towards the bottom half of the table but avoid relegation and it could be the same yet again. Their top two scorers from last years, Jon Macken and Alex Nicholls have left the club and they weren’t exactly prolific themselves so it is easy to see where they need improving and hopefully their 1-0 win over Brentford in the Capital One Cup will give them the confidence to go on and compete for a place higher up in the table.

Yeovil are another club that seemed to be struggling at the moment and may have a long season in front of them especially as they have lost their main man from last year, Andy Williams, who scored 16 goals in 35 league games but decided to join league newcomers Swindon Town. They have brought in James Hayter and Reuben Reid who I think can score goals at this level so if they remain solid at the back it will be another season in League 1 for them.

A surprising team that are tipped for relegation are Carlisle United because at times last year they looked good and were playing some decent stuff under Greg Abbott but they are another team that has lost one of their better players in Francois Zoko. They still look like they have a good enough side though and should be considered an outside tip for promotion through the playoffs because they have Frank Simek, Jon-Paul McGovern, Matty Robson and Lee Miller (if he can stay fit).

Four teams get relegated from League 1 so obviously there are more contenders but I see these with the exception of Carlisle to be the ones that struggle the most and are in a relegation battle come the end of the season.

Who will be relegated from League 2?

Being relegated from League 2 could possibly be the worst relegation in England as it means you are no longer a Football League club and teams often struggle to return at the first time of asking.

In recent years, Luton Town, Darlington (this could have been more because of financial problems that affected them for years) and Stockport County have been some of the bigger names to be unable to win promotion from the Blue Square Premier. I am going to look at the five teams that could be likely to battle against relegation even though I could be way off with the league being very unpredictable.

Barnet are the first team I believe will struggle simply because they have been unable to improve for years now and keep on avoiding relegation on the last day, eventually this is going to catch up on them and they will fail and this could be the year. With the loss of 22 goal Izale McLeod they need a replacement and have brought in Jon Nurse but he only got eight goals last season so he will need to improve if they are to stay up.

Burton Albion fresh off their penalty victory over Sheffield United in the Capital One Cup will need to start off their season just as quickly if they are to comfortably mid table. They definitely have goals in their team with Calvin Zola, Billy Kee and Justin Richards so they shouldn’t struggle in this department if they manage to keep them for the whole season but the defence looks a little light and a few injuries may completely derail their season.

Morecambe, another team that caused a shock in the cup will be hoping this is what is to come from their season however I don’t think this will be the case and they could be dragged towards the bottom of the table. The key person for me could be manager Jim Bentley as he clearly loves the club but his managerial inexperience could work against him but at least the fans know that he will be putting his all in.

Accrington Stanley lack a goal scorer in their squad and last season their star striker was Padraig Amond who only got eight goals and they will certainly need to improve here which is why they have brought in Karl Sheppard who does have a good record so far in his career and looks like he could be a vital addition.

Dagenham and Redbridge struggled last season but a good run of form towards the end of the season saw them safely avoid the drop but they may need a little more in the coming season. The loss of Jon Nurse to rivals Barnet could be key as his goals may just make the difference between the two sides. Brian Woodall had a decent year and will be hoping to build on that and manager John Still knows what it takes to be successful in this division so even though I am tipping them for a struggle this year, they could also be the surprise package.

Out of the five I think it could be Barnet and Accrington Stanley to go down.