Last season would have disappointed Sir Alex Ferguson as the Premier League was decided by the smallest of margins. Nevertheless, he expects silverware and a strong challenge for European glory. Unfortunately, the Red Devils struggled in the Champions League and their noisy neighbours pipped them to the Premier League title which will add salt to the wounds. This season, though, Manchester United will be more determined to reclaim their crown as champions and record Sir Alex Ferguson’s 13th title.
The signs look promising at Old Trafford as they have acquired the talents of Shinji Kagawa and the young Nick Powell who will shine in the future. The former Dortmund player, Kagawa, appears a real talent after winning two Bundesliga titles and his pre – season form shows someone with flair and the ability to score goals from the midfield area. That will be crucial for Manchester United whose midfield has often been criticised since the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and they cannot keep relying on veterans, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs in the centre of the park. He will turn out to be an important player next season and will link up with the attack as much as possible. Another midfielder who could make an impression is Tom Cleverley. The Olympics was a fantastic opportunity for Cleverley to prove his fitness and ability. He was one of the stand out players in the GB squad and earned himself an England call up for the friendly against Italy. Once again his composure on the ball and instinctive play impressed on the big stage and looks to claim a first team spot, as Sir Alex attempts to blend youth with the old guard.
One issue for the start of the season will be the slim defensive options available to United after Rio Ferdinand was ruled out of the first fixture. It is thought that Michael Carrick will fill in at the back alongside Nemanja Vidic whose return is welcome in a time of defensive injury crisis. The loss of defensive cover seems a familiar problem for United but should still be strong enough to get through it. It appears that Alexander Buttner is close to joining which would mean the chase for Leighton Baines' signature is over as Everton demanded a high transfer fee in the region of £17 million. The relatively inexperienced, Buttner, will need time to settle in but provides another option at left back.
As for Manchester United's strike force, all of the talk has been about the signing of Robin Van Persie. His impressive goal tally last season saw him propel Arsenal to third in the league and gained plaudits across Europe. If he can form a partnership with Wayne Rooney then the results should be terrifying for opposition defences. Wide players will also play a key role this season as Nani, Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia can create chances that strikers thrive off. That should see Van Persie and Roney grab their fair share of goals. The problem is keeping the Dutchman fit. If he can complete the season injury free then it will be money well spent, if not then £24 million will seem excessive. Another slight concern was the form of Van Persie at the European Championships for the Netherlands. Despite his fine finish against Germany he struggled to impress and many called for him to be dropped to the bench. Those fears will be dashed if Van Persie carries on his form from 2011/12 and grabs a debut goal.
The forward line for United this season has been compared to 1999, when United boasted the talents of Teddy Sherringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke. That year saw the infamous treble and a repeat would be incredible. As for the squad of 2012 Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck will be fighting to start with Dimitar Berbatov expected to leave Old Trafford. There are certainly goals in this side and Sir Alex Ferguson will be determined not to suffer from an inferior goal difference again. However, Manchester City also possess world class strikers and will score goals for fun. The likes of David Silva and Yaya Toure will ensure that Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli will have chances throughout the game. Inevitably, if you give City enough chances they can punish their opposition right up until the last minute as they showed against QPR and Southampton. So, Van Persie's decision to opt for the red half of Manchester becomes even more significant as it means that he will not be on City's books next season. His signing may be the crucial factor in determining who will lift the Premier League trophy this season and gives Manchester United a psychological boost over their rivals.
However, there are no easy games in the Premier League and Everton will prove to be a tough test. Arguably it was the two results against the Toffees which cost United the title last season. A dramatic match at Old Trafford saw Manchester United drop two points and only come out with a draw despite leading 4-2 with full time looming. The good news is that Robin Van Persie will be eligible to play as his paperwork was completed before the deadline. He is expected to partner former Everton striker, Wayne Rooney, who will hope to improve on past visits to Goodison Park. Towards the end of the season United play Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea. At the moment the significance of those fixtures in unknown but it is likely all four will be fighting for the title or Champions League football. Picking up wins in those games could be vital in securing the title just as City's win was last season against the Red Devils.
So, new additions going forward mean there is an air of enthusiasm and confidence heading into the new season and a determination to reclaim the title. Of course, there are issues defensively but once Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand regain fitness that worry should be eradicated especially with the return of Nemanja Vidic. I predict that Manchester United will overcome Mancini's men and win the league, this time by points and not goal difference. It will be another close season but the addition of Kagawa and Van Persie should result in more fluidity and an improvement on last season.