Manchester : Manchester United begin the defence of their Premier League title this week with a youthful spring in their step and some evidence to suggest victory in the Community Shield could be more significant than just a minor trophy.
Alex Ferguson’s youngsters, who helped to overturn a two-goal deficit in Sunday’s 3-2 win over Manchester City, need only look at Javier Hernandez as proof the Community Shield can shape a player’s season.
The 23-year-old Mexican came off the bench in last year’s edition to score his first goal for the club, a bizarre finish during which he sent the ball in via his foot and face to set the tone for a remarkable debut season.
Deft finishes and a poacher’s instinct eventually meant Hernandez overtook the experienced Dimitar Berbatov in the pecking order and became Wayne Rooney’s regular strike partner as United marched to a record 19th league title.
The likes of 21-year-old Tom Cleverley, who showed on Sunday he could succeed the newly-retired Paul Scholes in midfield, and 20-year-old forward Danny Welbeck now live in hope the same might happen to them.
“I have got to stake my claim now. I just want to do well for the club and personally work hard and see where that gets me,” Cleverley told United’s in-house television channel.
“Hopefully there are many more (trophies) to come and this is just the start. As a young lad you see all of your heroes climbing up the Wembley steps so it was nice to do it too. Hopefully this is just the start.”
While the Community Shield season curtain-raiser is often viewed as little more than a glorified friendly, this year’s match had the added spice of being a local derby as well as a meeting between the champions and the wannabes.
While City can take comfort from grabbing a two-goal lead against the run of play, there is no getting away from the fact their expensive outfit were outplayed by some talented youth academy products.
“I think today was a footballing lesson,” Rooney wrote on Twitter.
United sent Cleverley and Welbeck on loan to clubs like Wigan Athletic and Sunderland to gather Premier League experience and they returned eager to prove themselves to a manager confident in their abilities.
“It was a big challenge and they have done well. We are confident in this group of players,”
Ferguson said on the club’s website (www.manutd.com).
“For us it just confirms what I thought about the squad. People have been saying we are not the best United squad but you have to remember we have a lot of young players who will improve.
“I trust them and have confidence in the ability of the players,” added Ferguson. “But you can never be confident in the Premier League.
“It is such a difficult league. Six teams could be challenging for the title.”
United kick off their title defence at West Bromwich Albion on Sunday. (Reuters/NAN)