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Article:Premiership Preview - Manchester United

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As you’d expect of a team that won the Premiership and European Cup last year, United are in an extremely strong position, but unlike most teams in that situation, there’s more to come. Ferguson has bought well, and acquired talent young - when Rooney and Ronaldo were growing up and bedding into the side they had a couple of seasons off the pace, but it’s paying off now. Any team that wins the Champions’ League is as near a finished article as it needs to be, and yet we’ve likely still not seen the best of their stars – Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez ought all to improve in the next few years (especially Rooney, of whom more in a minute). And there are several positions where wily veterans (Scholes, Giggs) are still doing a useful job, but their deputies (Anderson, Nani) have already been bought and are be eased gradually into the side. Assuming they can replace 37-year-old Van Der Sar in goal (and that won’t be too difficult) everything is set fair for this United side to compete for years to come. If there are two players they could use, and these are by no means essential, then it's a proper right back to replace Wes Brown, and a physical striker with some ability in the air.

Wayne Rooney – despite already being an explosive player and mainstay of one of a big international side, Rooney is unusual in that he still has room for improvement. His talents are superbly well-suited to the role of top striker (the striker that stays up against the last defenders – not coming deep) but in games he gets impatient and roams about, and he’s INCREDIBLY wasteful around the goal. If he were playing in a team that doesn’t generate chances by the bucketload like United do it would stick out more, but it’s not unusual for him to be in on the keeper three times in a game and not score. He also wastes possession in very dangerous areas by trying ridiculous things – flicked passes, chips and so on. He’s still one of the best and most dangerous attackers around, because his abilities are exceptional – he’s explosively quick, physically powerful (with great balance that means he can shrug off challenges from much larger defenders), two-footed, has good vision, strikes a ball well, is an elusive dribbler, has good stamina over long distances, and is capable of exquisite, extraordinary pieces of skill. If he can ally all of this to calm finishing and better decisions he will score the goals his ability warrants – in the last three seasons his Premiership goal totals are 16, 14 and 12 (last season, part of which he missed), and that’s not a great return considering his skills and the side he plays in.

The story of United's summer, though, has been Real Madrid's pursuit of Cristiano Ronaldo. Using their usual unseemly tactics of talking about him in the press a lot, and seemingly floating hints of massive wages, Real clearly want him, and it seems he wouldn't mind wearing their white. It's understandable on Real's side, because the Portuguese has been a phenomenon these past couple of seasons - I have never seen a skillful, elusive dribbler of his size before. Zidane was a big man, but didn't run directly at and beat players like Ronaldo does (this is not to say that ZZ was inferior, mind). It means that not only do defenders have to cope with his extraordinary ball manipulation, his explosive take-off, superb balance and two-footedness, but his physical power means that he's even tougher to stop. He's also amazingly good in the air (good enough to play target man if needed). And, unlike Rooney, he has been getting the goals that his abilities warrant - 17 goals in the Prem two years ago, and then last season Ronaldo scored THIRTY-ONE goals in just 34 appearances, which is off-the-scale incredible for someone who isn't even an orthodox striker. Or for someone who is. United have a really strong squad, Ronaldo sounds fairly obnoxious as an individual - http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2008/jun/21/manchesterunited.premierleague1 - and Nani, Anderson and Rooney all ought to improve and be better next year, but Ronaldo is irreplaceable and if he leaves they will need to find those goals from somewhere.

EDIT - Ronaldo is definitely staying now, so I'd make United favourites for the Prem this year again.

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