Premier League preview – Manchester United

Last season:

Premier League – 2nd

FA Cup – 4th round

League Cup – 5th round

Champions League/Europa League – Group stage/Round of 16

Manchester United’s quest for a 20th league title has taken on an even greater significance as they seek to wrest back the Premier League crown from neighbours Manchester City. A dramatic final day of the 2011/12 season was a difficult pill to swallow at Old Trafford, but Sir Alex Ferguson can draw on a number of positives as he sets out on one of the toughest campaigns of his career.

City will be the team for everyone to beat, but United should take confidence from the fact that it took goal difference to defeat them in a season that was far from vintage, and saw their squad decimated by injuries. Ferguson will be buoyed by the return of his captain, Nemanja Vidic, who missed the entire second half of last season through knee ligament damage. The 30-year-old defender featured in the final three games of pre-season, and his presence will be crucial in combatting some of the defensive frailties that were an uncharacteristic issue as United relinquished their title.

The potential arrival of Robin van Persie could turn out to be a signing of huge significance, providing Ferguson can secure the services of the Dutchman. The red half of Manchester will be pleased that van Persie seems to prefer a move to their side of town, where a partnership with Wayne Rooney would represent a mouth-watering prospect. However, it is the impact of Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa that has set most tongues wagging amongst United supporters.

The acquisition from Borussia Dortmund has made a great start to his Old Trafford career, impressing throughout pre-season with his quick feet and lively link-up play. He combined well with Rooney to score the winner in last week’s fixture against Hannover 96, and looks like he has settled in well at his new club. The creativity that the 23-year-old possesses could be an important addition to United’s attack, and improve prospects in Europe where lacklustre performances were witnessed last season.

Criticisms were also levelled at the centre of United’s midfield, which saw the return of Paul Scholes from retirement in January. The veteran was able to inject a real authority in the centre of the pitch, but at 37, will be playing in fewer games through a season which is likely to be his last. The same can be said of Ryan Giggs, who turns 39 in November. Both players bring an assured calm to the side and, along with Michael Carrick, help maintain possession and dictate the play. It will be a big season for Carrick, who will be the mainstay of the midfield. Ferguson will be hoping that he can take on the responsibility and have an influential campaign.

The coming season promises to be intriguingly competitive, with the two Manchester clubs set to be challenged at the top of the table by an Arsenal side that has invested in their attack, along with big-spending Chelsea, fresh from their Champions League victory.

Manager – Sir Alex Ferguson: Will be fiercely driven to right the wrongs of last season and win back some dissenting supporters that questioned his relationship with the club’s owners. Delivering his 13th league title to Old Trafford would represent one of the most impressive feats of his illustrious career.

Key signing – Shinji Kagawa: Has looked hugely promising in pre-season with his all-round contribution going forward. Bagged two winners for his new team and could supply goals from deep and improve the speed of United’s build-up play.

Key sale – Park Ji-Sung: Was a fans’ favourite at Old Trafford but had a reduced influence last season and the time seemed right for the 31-year-old to move on. United will miss his determination and work-rate in midfield where he was frequently deployed in the biggest games.

Keep an eye out for…The financials: United have been hitting the headlines thanks to a float on the New York Stock Exchange, as the club’s financial state is once again severely scrutinised. Expect a backlash from supporters, with the Green and Gold campaign likely to gather pace, especially if a marquee signing is not delivered before the transfer window shuts.

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