Manchester City’s historic title win on May 13th was particularly painful for Manchester United, both for the goal difference that pushed them to second place, and the manner by which City’s extra time goals ended a dramatic season. The riches of Sheikh Mansour have bankrolled Manchester City from perennial also-ran living in the shadow of their city rivals to one of the most ambitious clubs in the world. In the space of four years, City’s expensively assembled squad has gelled into a team that has collected the FA Cup and now the Premiership title. In a season where United’s only trophy was the Community Shield, and when the club suffered an early exit from the Champions league, Sir Alex Ferguson is under increased pressure to boost his squad.
Manchester United’s second place finish this season is testament to Ferguson’s ability to make the most of a thin squad that has suffered from injury, and has had to rely on bringing players like Paul Scholes, back from retirement. With recurring injuries to key players like Nemanja Vidic, Ferguson has managed to make a team that mixes the genuinely world class with younger and more marginal players. At their best, United this season have been as dominating as powerful as any Ferguson side. At their worst, and in results typified by a recent collapse to Everton, and a defeat by City, they have looked dangerously short of ideas.
United executive David Gill has promised money to spend this summer, despite Ferguson’s repeated admissions that he has simply chosen not to. Although the Glazer family have used United’s revenues to feed their own debt, there is no doubt that the club could splash out this summer to restore United to the top of the table and the final stages of the Champions League. Ferguson is adamant that in a side that contains young players like De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Young, Rooney and Welbeck, that he has the foundation for a great side.
However, the squad needs cover across the pitch. Jonny Evans looks set to follow previous squad defenders like Wes Brown and John O’Shea out of the club, and Ferguson arguably requires another world class centre back to pair a weakening Ferdinand and stand in for Vidic. In midfield, United’s long hunt for an attacking midfielder that can take some of the burden away from Rooney might result in deals for Clint Dempsey and the Japanese Shinji Kagawa. United are also expected to fight City and other clubs for the signing of young French midfield Eden Hazard. Up front, the departure of Michael Owen, and an expected sale of out of favour Dimitar Berbatov will open the door to add another striker, with United having been linked for a controversial move for Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie.
There is some evidence though that Ferguson will again resist a radical overhaul of his squad. United still finished high above third place Arsenal, and will point to the gradual effect of FInancial Fair Play Rules on the excessive spending of City, who are set to cut their wage bill by offloading some squad players this summer. Arsenal and Tottenham are also unlikely to be able to risk major outlays on new players this summer, especially after Spurs were denied entry to the Champions League by Chelsea’s victory in the tournament. Chelsea may yet be United’s biggest rivals next season after City, with that Champions League win potentially opening the door to bring in some younger stars for the ageing Drogba and Lampard.
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