Manchester United claimed a historic 19th league title last season to replace Liverpool as England’s most successful domestic side. Not content with finally surpassing Liverpool, Ferguson has set about rebuilding his team and United once again enter the season as favourites.
Although United were outplayed by Barcelona in the Champions League final, 2010/11 was a good season for Ferguson’s men. The Red Devils ended with a comfortable eight point lead atop the Premier League and deservedly beat Chelsea three times in the closing months of the season, including a double in the Champions League quarter finals. United also made it three Champions League finals out of four to cement their place as the second best team in Europe.
Ferguson will, however, be disappointed with the surprise loss to rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup semi final and the inept performance against Barcelona.
With future seasons in mind, it has been a summer of regeneration for United. Former lynchpins of the team Paul Scholes, Edwin Van der Sar and Gary Neville retired, while reliable squad players John O’Shea and Wes Brown left for Sunderland. Owen Hargreaves’ United career also came to a sad end as he failed to recover from long-term injury problems.
Ferguson’s signings have clearly been made with a view to building a new United team capable of challenging for years to come. The side that finished the Community Shield so impressively last Sunday had an average age of just over 22.
Ashley Young joined from Aston Villa for £16m and will be a good addition to the United side. Ferguson now has the envious task of choosing between three quality wingers in Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia, while Ji Sung Park will continue to play the defensive winger position. Young has been one of the Premier League’s most impressive wingers in recent seasons and the 26 year old’s willingness to dribble past players and deliver accurate crosses adds a dangerous element to the United attack
David De Gea was signed for £17.6m, the fourth biggest ever transfer fee for a goalkeeper, and has the daunting task of replacing Edwin Van der Sar. Due to his youth, inexperience and the hefty transfer fee involved in his arrival, the signing of De Gea marks a slight gamble for Ferguson. The Spaniard has also shown himself to be vulnerable to shots from outside the area, with De Gea conceding a league high 11 goals from outside the box in La Liga last season.
De Gea could yet confound his early critics, however. The Spaniard boasts excellent agility, ball distribution and shot stopping ability. There could be some growing pains, but De Gea has the potential and goalkeeping fundementals to become one of the world’s best shot stoppers.
Ferguson’s final signing was the promising youngster Phil Jones. Although £16m is a substantial outlay for a 19 year old player, Jones has shown great composure, defensive attributes and reading of the game in his young career. Jones joins an impressive stable of youngsters including Chris Smalling, Rafael, Fabio, Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley.
The weakness for United is still central midfield. Although Paul Scholes’ influence has been dwindling in recent seasons, his retirement leaves a creative gulf in United’s midfield. Sneijder has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford over the summer and could yet be added to Ferguson’s squad before the transfer deadline. The Dutchman would provide the spark and ingenuity that the Manchester side have lacked from their engine room in recent seasons.
If Sneijder stays at Inter, Anderson and Cleverley will be looked upon to make the breakthrough and generate the creativity in United’s central midfield.
Anderson’s form has been erratic since the Brazilian joined in 2007. After a good first season, the 23 year old’s performance level dropped. Despite a dearth of goals, a good finish to last season has rejuvenated hopes that Anderson can become a quality player for United.
Cleverley has enjoyed successful loan spells at Leicester City, Watford and Wigan and produced an impressive second half performance against Manchester City on Sunday.
Arguably United should be trying to bolster their defensive midfield options. Owen Hargreaves was bought to add steel to United’s midfield and has not yet been replaced. To overcome Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League, United may need more combative midfielders than Michael Carrick.
Overall United possess a strong squad. Wayne Rooney and Nani have been in terrific form during the per-season, with Rooney seemingly on the verge on returning to his former self. Javier Hernandez was one of the signings of last season and his prolific goal scoring record will be crucial as United compete on four fronts.
The defence has a good blend of experienced lynchpins and promising youngsters. Vidic and Ferdinand form a defensive rock, with Rafael, Fabio and Chris Smalling all capable of filling the problematic right back position. The champions have an array of midfield and winger options, while Hernandez, Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Danny Welbeck form a potent forward line. If De Gea can prove his worth, United are definitely the team to beat domestically.
Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool have all improved their squads during the summer and it would be foolish to dismiss Arsenal despite the potential losses of Fabregas and Nasri. Fans should expect a crowded battlefield in the quest for the title, but United could be celebrating Ferguson’s 13th league title come May.