Manchester United season preview

Posted by Musa Okwonga and Mark Payne

What's changed since last season?
Mark Payne: At Old Trafford it has been out with the old and, well, out with a bit more old. Sir Alex Ferguson has handed in his Wrigley's wrapper for the last time and Paul Scholes has retired his sat nav too. At least we will be spared Ferguson's continual insistence on playing Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick together in central midfield. This has left Manchester United with obvious gaps in the coaching department and the midfield. Elsewhere, Patrice Evra continues to get older at left back and Wayne Rooney is not a happy bunny up front.

New manager David Moyes steps into the hot seat and, while he has thoroughly earned his spurs, this job would be a step up for anybody. The transfer market has not been kind so far and he will likely be playing a midfield pairing of Giggs and Carrick sooner rather than later.

United have been much more open about their transfer dealings this summer than in the past. This can largely be put down to the change in CEO. Steady pair of hands David Gill has been replaced by former commercial director Edward Woodward. A lifetime of business has not prepared Woodward for the jungle of the transfer market and, as yet, he is yet to deliver a new signing for Moyes.

Sitting alongside him, Moyes will have club legend Giggs and canny old boy Phil Neville. It is widely hoped this axis has enough steel and sharpness to make up for Ferguson's retirement. However, the pointy end of management is pretty unforgiving and the men on the bench will need to learn quickly. The nature of being at United means that every mistake will be overanalysed and overreacted to. Withstanding early judgments will be crucial.

Key to this campaign?
MP: The unity of the camp. On many occasions in recent years, United have benefited from the implosions and infighting of their nearest rivals. Last season, Manchester City's big stars finally started to consume their manager's patience, then his job prospects and then him.

In the past, Chelsea's annual change of manager and subsequent undermining of the new one by senior players has allowed United to gallop clear in the league. This time it is the Red Devils who look vulnerable.

Success will depend on how well the new personnel jell with the old and work toward the same objectives. This is where Moyes will earn his money. Any dissent or discontent must be kept in camp and away from the media. A couple of poor results could test the patience though. Riding through the rough early fixtures, which include meetings with Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in the first five matches, will not be easy.

Predicted finish/realistic goal
MP: It may not be as ambitious as most would like, but a top-three finish for United and qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League would represent a job well done. Losing Ferguson as manager is nothing short of major trauma, but there is still an excellent squad on staff and more experience than any of the other top clubs.

It cannot be denied that United overachieved in their past three seasons. Ferguson is known as the greatest manager of all time for good reason. The good thing about his retirement is that fans will no longer be tortured with treble talk every January.

Make or break season for ...
MP: Manchester United's wingers each had largely forgettable seasons, but Ashley Young looked the unhappiest of all during his. He spent the entire year apparently devoid of confidence, following a debut season where, though he provided some important goals and assists, he never truly convinced supporters of his quality. Nani and Antonio Valencia both had a poor 12 months, but Nani has proved his ability to win matches in both the Premier League and Europe for the club while Valencia has something more of a period of grace with memories of his outstanding 2011-12 season still fresh. With a group of gifted young attackers now competing for Young's place, the 28-year-old forward must stake his claim or fall irreversibly down the pecking order.

One to watch
MP: This is a dead heat between Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj. Zaha, an endlessly inventive winger, is arguably the most exciting young English player in the Premier League, and Januzaj, the 18-year-old Belgian playmaker, has superb technique and vision. Both of them have the talent to make decisive contributions this year; and, given the indifferent form of some of the attackers already at the club, they may well be given their chance to do so.


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