Manchester United’s tale of two teams: are they old or young?
Manchester United have started their pre-season with a 3-1 over Celtic in Toronto, in what reports agree was a professional and promising display.
What commentators can’t seem to see eye to eye on, however, is whether this United squad is one bouncing with youthful vigour or one aching with the tired legs of seasoned campaigners.
Manchester United are 7/4 to win the title, as they have done in 11 out of 18 Premier League seasons.
The Mail on Sunday newspaper worked out that an entire Red Devils starting XI could be made up of players aged 29 or over this season.
Edwin Van der Sar, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Michael Owen will all be over 30 when Newcastle visit Old Trafford for the club’s opening game, which the home side are 1/6 to win.
The Sun meanwhile, made the point that eight of the those fielded against Celtic were 21 or under, with Fabio, Rafael, Chris Smalling, Gabriel Obertan, Federico Macheda, Ritchie De Laet and Danny Welbeck having already played Premier League matches.
The optimistic view is unsurprisingly supported by boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Giggs, with the 36-year-old saying: “I’m sure these young players will get better and better.”
It seems this is the season to test that theory, as last year the six elder statesmen made over three times are many league appearances as the seven young guns – 141 to 44.
Those figures show that while United have a number of blossoming players coming through, the manager has felt the need to keep relying on experience when it matters.
Such a philosophy did Chelsea no harm last season, the average age for their title-winning first-choice XI was 29.6.
But should Ferguson put his faith more firmly in youth he can take confidence from his 1995-style plunge, when Giggs, Scholes, and Neville were mere pups featuring in a team with an average age of 25.3 that went on to win the Double.