14/08/2009 13:38, Report by Steve Bartram
A new beginning
There have been questions asked of United over the summer.
Can we cope without Ronaldo? Can Rooney and Berbatov step up to the plate? Can Owen stay fit? What formation will Sir Alex go for? Who will be the first-choice central midfielders? Who will nail down the right-back slot? Can Nani and Anderson kick on and realise their brimming potential? They go on.
And that’s without beginning to question the credentials of Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and new-money Manchester City. Focusing entirely in-house, there’s much to learn during the coming weeks and months.
Last Sunday’s Community Shield against Chelsea provided some hints. It looks likely we’ll revert to 4-4-2, with plenty of emphasis on width. Nani caught the eye. Rooney looks every inch a line-leader who can bring goals. Owen’s movement and timing remain impeccable. There was much to admire at Wembley, particularly in the first half, and that’s still without van der Sar and Vidic, who will add further defensive steel.
Optimists and pessimists are seemingly equal in number. The former are collectively salivating at the prospect of a return to the fast-flowing, incisive team play that has characterised our club for much of its history; the latter cannot see how selling the world’s best player can be perceived as progress.
There are shades of the summer of 2006, when the naysayers were higher in numbers. Ruud van Nistelrooy’s goals were gone, the talented but unproven Michael Carrick was the only new permanent arrival and Chelsea’s iron grip on the Premier League trophy was unyielding. What happened? The Blues’ monopoly was smashed, existing players became better and the first of three successive titles was bagged.
Extending that success to a fourth, as well as building on reaching the semi-finals or final of three other major competitions, will be a big ask, regardless of summer changes. Other sides –