Title contenders – Man United will rely on status quo to reclaim crown
In 1986, when Sir Alex Ferguson was a mere Mr, the Manchester United manager declared an ambition to “knock Liverpool off their perch”.
In 2010 his team are one title away from doing so but winning the Premier League (2/1) will likely be done the hard way, with Ferguson refusing to spend much on recruiting new talent.
Edwin Van Der Sar is undoubtedly one of the world’s best goalkeepers but the Dutchman will be 40 in October and his age is showing. Last season he completed only 21 league games and with injuries persisting Tomasz Kuszczak will deputise frequently.
While the Pole is a decent shot stopper his judgement is questionable and with Ben Foster shipped out this could turn into a problem area for United.
Two seasons ago United broke all records by going 14 league games without conceding but last term had a brittle backline after an injury pile-up.
That shouldn’t happen again but doubts over Rio Ferdinand’s fitness remain, meaning Nemanja Vidic staying is a must. Those two are arguably still the best centre-back pairing on the planet and with Chris Smalling brought in for back-up alongside Jonny Evans the future looks good.
It must be assumed Patrice Evra will be at his marauding best again and with Gary Neville turning back the clock, twins Fabio and Rafael may have to bide their time.
A source of consternation for Red Devils’ fans is central midfield. Paul Scholes was at his magnificent best at times last season but he is close to retirement, while Michael Carrick is looking a shadow of his former self.
Anderson hasn’t progressed as expected, while Owen Hargreaves injury set-back is a massive blow. Darren Fletcher has become a key figure but the worry is that United can get overrun by stronger midfields.
The wings look promising, though. Antonio Valencia did well filling Cristiano Ronaldo’s big shoes and Nani looks set to take this season by storm. Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs will be their usual classy selves.
Despite losing Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez 12 months ago, United actually scored 18 more league goals last season than in 2008/09.
Wayne Rooney’s 26 Premier League strikes played a large part in that and backing him to win the Golden Boot, at 5/1, would be smart – he is guaranteed to put behind him a a dreadful World Cup, just as he did in 2006/07.
If pre-season friendlies are anything to go on, Dmitar Berbatov will finally live up to his potential this season and Javier Hernandez could shock a few defences – he was excellent for Mexico in South Africa would be a decent outside bet for Premier League top scorer at 40/1.
Ferguson says he is satisfied with what he has, but it’s a squad that could become average should bad luck strike. A top four finish is assured (1/16), but wrestling back the number one slot may be a step too far. See the full Premier League match betting market.