Man Utd 2008-09 preview

Man Utd have kept hold of Cristiano Ronaldo, but can they improve upon last season?

Will Ferguson's lack of transfer activity affect United?

How to improve upon last season? Among the many questions running through Sir Alex Ferguson's mind during the summer, that must have been the one hitting top speed. Who to bring in to replace Carlos Queiroz, and how to handle the Cristiano Ronaldo situation, must also have given the Manchester United manager food for thought, but reaching the same heights as in 2007/08 must rank as the biggest challenge over the coming months. United followed up back-to-back Premier League titles by claiming the UEFA Champions League trophy for the second time in Ferguson's illustrious tenure with a thrilling penalty shoot-out victory over domestic rivals Chelsea in Moscow. Since that rainy night in the Russian capital, there has been plenty for the tabloids to speculate upon regarding the club's future, but in truth very little has happened at Old Trafford during the summer. The only significant departure has been that of Queiroz, and the will-he, won't-he, who cares? saga of Ronaldo finally appears to have reached a resolution, with the winger saying he will stay for at least one more season.

Maturing

Ferguson has also made no moves in the transfer market to date, despite his desire for a new striker, so improvement for the coming season will currently have to be provided from within. Though stalwarts Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have matured with age and adapted their playing styles, they are not going to improve dramatically now they are in the twilight of their careers, and Ferguson has admitted the long-serving duo will likely play more limited roles. Their long-term replacements, Nani and Anderson, will be looked upon to maintain the progress they displayed during their debut seasons at the club. Nani may not have the explosive qualities of his fellow Portuguese winger Ronaldo, but he showed flashes of ability that suggest his second season in English football will be far more profitable, particularly if he curbs the theatrics. For me, Anderson enjoyed a superb debut season for United after arriving from Porto and he has the chance to make a central midfield spot his own this season. Michael Carrick is slowly growing in stature, while Owen Hargreaves will hope his injury troubles are behind him after impressing on the occasions he was fit last season. Darren Fletcher always offers reliable back-up, and United are well covered in the wing positions, even if Ronaldo, Nani and Park Ji-sung will all miss the start of the campaign.
Search for goals
Ronaldo will not be back until October due to an ankle injury, but it is hard to envisage him having a similarly productive season in front of goal after scoring a remarkable 42 times last term. That puts the onus on Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez to increase their goals output as Louis Saha continues to make Darren Anderton seem like a beacon of good health. Rooney and Tevez notched 37 goals between them last season and it is likely that both need to break the 20-goal barrier for United to maintain their standards. Fraizer Campbell is set to be given a chance after impressing on loan for Hull City last season and Ferguson's pursuit of Tottenham striker Dimitar Berbatov appears to have cooled, although the United boss hopes to have a new front man in place before the opening game against Newcastle. For all that Berbatov is a fine player, he is too similar in style to Rooney and Tevez and United would surely benefit from finding a player in the Ruud van Nistelrooy mould. Defensively, United look as strong as ever and also have sufficient back-up in the goalkeeping department in the event that the years catch up on Edwin van der Sar.
Foil for Fergie
In the dug-out, Ferguson is still to decide on a new lieutenant after Queiroz took up the task of succeeding Luiz Felipe Scolari with the Portugal national team. Queiroz has had his critics in the past, but there is no denying his influence in United's recent successes and he will be a hard act to follow. He was a fantastic foil for Ferguson and the Scot will be hoping his next assistant can make the same type of impact, and that decision could play a major role in United's prospects of success. All in all, there is no reason why United can't defend their two titles, despite history being against them, as Ferguson does have a squad which is increasing in maturity and authority. Several players are coming towards their peak, and the younger members of the squad now have a wealth of experience, making United the team to beat once again. How will United do this season? Let us know using the form below

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