Premier League Preview: Manchester United

My Premier League previews continue with the eighteen-time Premier League champions Manchester United this time in the spotlight.

Sir Alex Ferguson has again chosen to limit his transfer activity this summer, with players for the future clearly on the agenda for the United boss. Javier Hernandez had a decent World Cup in South Africa for Mexico, scoring two goals in the tournament. The striker has joined from Mexican side Chivas for £6 million; a real coup for the Red Devils as the twenty-two-year-old looks to be a very promising forward. Chris Smalling has joined from Fulham to complete one of the best stories in football; the defender started his career at Maidstone United in 2007. The Stones play in the seventh tier of English football and so the move from Premier League side Fulham to buy Smalling was a surprise one. Only a year after he joined Fulham, and after making only thirteen appearances for the Cottagers, Sir Alex snapped up the defender for £10 million. The two new signings have featured in pre-season and are expected to stay at United this season rather than go out on loan, with Danny Welbeck and Mame Biram Diouf being told by Fergie that they can be loaned to other clubs in order to gain first team experience. The departure of Ben Foster has meant that Tomasz Kuszczak has been moved up the pecking order for goalkeepers at Manchester United, while youngster Ben Amos has been made number three goalkeeper. Ferguson is rumoured to be watching Danish goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard, with a view to replacing Edwin Van der Sar at the end of the season. The United squad is very much unchanged from last season though with a huge influx of players under the age of twenty-five in the first team. Ferguson has expressed his intent to make sure that the club is in good stead when he retires from management.
            United have, for the last few seasons, been the proud owners of the best central-defensive partnership in the Premier League. Although Rio Ferdinand struggled with injuries last season the England captain will be looking to get back to full fitness as soon as possible to enable him to rekindle his partnership with Nemanja Vidic. The two centre-backs are the rock-solid nucleus of the team, although Jonny Evans is another young player that looks to be growing into a top quality member of the Manchester United squad. Twins Rafael and Fabio da Silva may see a lot more first team action with Gary Neville veering closer to retirement as the days go by, while Patrice Evra has been given more time off by Ferguson after the mischief he caused in South Africa.
            The Red Devils look solid in midfield also with the model professionals, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, still going strong and still winning trophies for their boyhood teams. The hard-working Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher have both received huge recognition in the past couple of seasons for the jobs they do in midfield, while Nani looks to be settling into the English game and even appears to have gained some maturity on the ball; the Portuguese winger, much like Nani’s hero and former Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo, has tended to make very simple acts difficult in recent seasons for the Reds but the winger now seems to know when to pass and when to dribble past a player. Brazilian attacking midfielder Anderson was recently involved in a horrific car accident, driving into a wall at high speed and rolling the vehicle, which accumulated to his car being set on fire. The midfielder, though, is said to be close to a return to training after walking away from the crash. Antonio Valencia has come good for Ferguson after his move from Wigan before the start of last season; his speed down the wings and quality of crossing could be important to United when it comes to scoring goals.
            One to watch this season, though, is Tom Cleverley. The midfielder, who came through the ranks at United, was recently told by Ferguson to stay at the club this season and fight for his place; a massive boost for the player as this probably means that the English player could see some first team action this term. Cleverley has been sent out on loan to Watford and Leicester in recent seasons where he impressed immensely. He has also played for the England under-21 side six times, with many more appearances looking to be on the horizon.
             United do look strong up front although, if things go horribly wrong, they may be without a goal scoring striker. England striker Wayne Rooney endured a torrid World Cup and can probably expect a poor reception from fans this season. Rooney hasn’t scored in a competitive match since the end of March in a Champions League game against Bayern Munich and, although, Rooney suffered injuries towards the end of last season, the fact that he hasn’t been on top form for a long time, added to the hostile crowd reactions, could see Rooney under-perform for United this season. His striking partner, Dimitar Berbatov, has been criticised over the past few seasons but Ferguson has come out and said that he believes in the striker and is sticking with the Bulgarian. Berbatov has scored twenty six goals in eighty six Manchester United appearances, compared to the forty six goals he scored in just over one hundred appearances for Tottenham. Michael Owen is back from injury meaning that, on paper at least, United have three forwards that were born to put goals away. The eager Hernandez could give United some for flair to their front-line, while Federico Macheda looks to be growing into a strong, powerful forward for the Red Devils. If United are going to retain the title this season, and there is every possibility that they will if the youngsters perform to Ferguson’s estimated potential, then they will need goals from all areas of the pitch. It might not be possible to rely on Rooney this season.
Where will they finish?: 2nd
Official title odds: 11/4 (Victor Chandler)
Star man: Wayne Rooney
One to watch: Tom Cleverley
Main weakness: Rooney cannot be relied upon to carry the team
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