So the start to Manchester United's title defence, and to David Moyes' tenure as their new manager, looks like a bracing one; it could be as ferocious as the opening of the Arctic Monkey's second album. In their first five matches the Red Devils will face Swansea away, then Chelsea at home; then Liverpool away, Crystal Palace at home, and Manchester City away. While this line-up might fill some United fans with trepidation, it would be important for them to remember that their team's strength traditionally lies in their form from Christmas onwards.
Tuesday's European Under-21 championship final features Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea in the ascent with Spain. He has kept four clean sheets in the tournament so far and wants to turn that achievement into a winner's medal, too -- all while most of his United teammates are on holiday. Whatever the result against Italy, De Gea has only one thing on his mind -- becoming the world's best. "My objective is to be right up there with the best players in the world, that's what makes me excited, and I'm doing everything I can to achieve that," De Gea said this week.
The speculation grows over Nani's future, with rumours that Manchester United are asking for GBP;8.5 million in return for his services. The talented but inconsistent winger has frustrated many of his own supporters over the years, but there is still a sense that his departure would be premature. Nani has a year left on his contract, and so the risk is that he will leave next summer for nothing. Arguably the greater risk, though, is that he will leave Old Trafford at a time when the club has a dearth of truly penetrative dribblers.
Part three of Mark Payne's Manchester United player reviews; follow links for Part 1 and Part 2. Paul Scholes: 6 Scholes started only eight games in the campaign and that was never going to be enough for a player who sets such high standards for himself. One of those starts came against Swansea at the end of the season, after both his and the manager's retirements had been announced. -Yorke: United should not sell Rooney My favourite moment of Scholes’ season, uniquely, came off the pitch.
Manchester United have signed Guillermo Varela, the Uruguay under-20 defender, from Penarol for an undisclosed fee. Varela, who had a trial at Old Trafford last season, will deputise for Rafael, and his transfer raises a wider issue about the squad that he has just joined. First, though, Manchester United’s fans should feel comforted by this news. Prior to Varela’s arrival, the club had only one specialist right back, with Chris Smalling and Phil Jones filling in when Rafael was absent.
Michael Carrick: 9 Without question the midfielder's best season at the club. He was voted player of the year by his colleagues on the staff and it is the least he deserves. That tremendous achievement arrives to cap the season when his name has been sung the most by fans. It has taken Carrick nearly a decade to be fully appreciated by the crowd and his story is testament to the values of perseverance and hard work. United fans are usually more discerning, but in pining for a new Roy Keane, Carrick's attributes have often been overlooked.
The bubble of speculation grows, and with each passing hour that it swells the temptation also grows to pop it. The rumour is that Cristiano Ronaldo is considering a return to Old Trafford, the club where he came of age and won every individual and team accolade that he could want. The rumour was given further weight by ESPN FC's Graham Hunter, who recently reported that Ronaldo and his team were not looking to renew the Portuguese forward's contract, which expires in 2015. First, let us indulge the glorious attacking possibilities that Ronaldo's return would produce.
David de Gea: 8 A much better season for the Spaniard and he has seized his opportunity to become the undisputed number one. De Gea's improvement is an ode to hard work as he has clearly taken on board the criticism from last term and learnt from it. Additionally, he has spent a lot of time in the gym and is a much more formidable presence than he was 18 months ago. The best part is that he can still get better. Anders Lindergaard: 5.5 Last August, Lindergaard and de Gea were on an equal footing with the manager, but the goalkeeper rotation policy earlier in the season backfired badly.
When David Moyes was appointed as Manchester United manager, the watchword of many of us in the media was "continuity." With him in the job, the club would be assured a smooth transition to further success. Trouble is, on reflection, it's not all that clear what "continuity" actually meant. So far, it looks as if the only things that Moyes truly has in common with Sir Alex Ferguson are (A) he is uncompromising, and (B) he is Scottish. After all, Moyes has parted company -- perhaps prematurely -- with Eric Steele, the goalkeeping coach credited with bringing the best out of David De Gea this season, and Rene Meulensteen, the first-team coach for so many years under Ferguson.
David Moyes certainly hasn't wasted any time. His contract at Manchester United doesn't start until July 1, but as news emerges that the Red Devils have made enquiries over the availability of Cesc Fabregas, it seems the Scot is attempting to construct his team already. Fabregas returned to Barcelona in 2011 as a favourite son who had been dearly missed. The move ended several years of speculation and seemed like a perfect fit at the time. In reality, Fabregas was put into direct competition with some of the best midfielders in history, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, and has struggled to hold down a place.
Following Crystal Palace's promotion to the Premier League, Ian Holloway has shown the optimism of an Englishman wearing shorts in May. With his team having defeated Watford 1-0 in the Championship playoff final at Wembley, he was quick to wonder whether Manchester United might consider letting it keep Wilfried Zaha on loan next season. Given the problems that Manchester United have endured with their wide men this year, it should have been possible to hear cacophonous laughter all the way from Old Trafford.
Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund take the pitch at Wembley tomorrow night to play in Europe's biggest football game and will do so on the front lawn of English football. Meanwhile, new Manchester United manager David Moyes has started reshuffling United's back room staff as he attempts to bridge the gap to Europe's elite. This afternoon United confirmed that assistant manager Mike Phelan and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele would be leaving the club. "I would like to put on record the club's thanks for everything Mike and Eric have done.