With a record 20th Premier League title secured, the attentions of Manchester United fans have turned towards next season and David Moyes’ inaugural campaign in charge.
The 50-year-old Scot faces the unenviable task of filling Sir Alex Ferguson’s legendary shoes and the United faithful are wondering if he can repeat, or even surpass, this season’s successful campaign.
The biggest challenge Moyes faces initially is instilling the hunger and desire necessary to win the league, in a team that has just done so.
Ferguson’s ability to do this time and again enabled him to see off the likes of Blackburn, Newcastle, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City over the last two decades.
United were devastated after their final day at Sunderland last season, but Ferguson used that heartache to fuel his players.
City and Chelsea proved with league wins at Old Trafford late in the season that the difference between themselves and United is not as great as the table suggests.
Both made pivotal mistakes last summer – City by not backing Mancini until the final week of the transfer window, Chelsea by not securing a manager – but those errors will not be repeated.
Both teams will provide a huge challenge for Moyes to overcome in his first season at the helm of the Red Devils.
With regard to the team itself, Ferguson has always made it clear his successor at United would inherit a fantastic squad and last season’s title triumph makes it clear Moyes has done so.
The side is littered with experienced players such as Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic who know what it takes to win and will help ease the transition.
David De Gea, Rafael, and Shinji Kagawa, as well as Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley – also, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck – are all under 24 and will form the side’s backbone for the next decade.
Sweeping changes are not needed but it is important for Moyes and United to be active in the market to show the footballing world there is life after Ferguson.
A look at the defence shows that – despite some early-season struggles – the Red Devils are in good shape at the back.
De Gea, Rafael, Jones and Jonny Evans are maturing into top-class defenders, while Ferdinand, Vidic and Patrice Evra still have much to offer.
Leighton Baines has long been linked to Old Trafford as a replacement for Evra but at 28, his age and price-tag – Everton are notoriously tough negotiators – make that unlikely.
There are far more question marks in the United midfield and this could be where Moyes deems it most necessary to expend his resources.
Michael Carrick has enjoyed the finest season of his career but he is 31 years old, while Ryan Giggs is 39 and Paul Scholes looks set to retire.
Cleverley has shown promise at times but not enough to suggest he can be the lynchpin of a perennial title contender and he fell out of favour in the second half of the season.
The wing-play at Old Trafford was a collective disappointment as Ashley Young, Nani and Antonio Valencia combined for just two goals and 13 assists all season.
Wilfried Zaha is set to arrive from Crystal Palace in the summer but he is unlikely to make a sizeable contribution in his first Premier League season.
Nani arrived at Old Trafford with plenty of expectation along with Anderson in the summer of 2007 and both have frustrated and intrigued United fans in the six years since.
The time could be right, both for themselves and the club, to seek a fresh start elsewhere.
The future of Wayne Rooney looks set to dominate the agenda on the back pages over the coming weeks, after he reportedly asked to leave United.
Though he has taken a backseat to Robin van Persie’s brilliance this season, Rooney still has plenty to offer United.
He showed his class late in the season in an unfamiliar midfield role and his 12 goals and ten assists illustrate that, while it was not his best season, it was far from a poor one.
With two years left on his contract, a resolution will have to be reached one way or the other, as United will be determined to avoid letting him reach the final year.
With him in the fold, United have plenty of firepower and four talented strikers who complement each other with different skill sets.
If he leaves, he will need to be replaced and Robert Lewandowski and Radamel Falcao are two forwards United have been extensively linked with.
For United to maintain what was the status-quo under Ferguson, Moyes will need to strengthen the midfield ranks and place his faith in the talented young core already in place.
He must also instil that incredible belief, desire and confidence that was a hallmark of every United side over the last two decades.
If there was a quote Ferguson gave that epitomised his teams during his reign, it came in his interview directly after United’s last-gasp win over Bayern Munich in 1999.
“Football, bloody hell,” he said. “But they never gave in – and that’s a winner.”
Whether we will say the same about Moyes’ United teams remains to be seen.
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