London. Alex Ferguson will lead Manchester United into the Premier League season facing arguably his biggest threat after 20 years of supremacy in English football — crosstown rival Manchester City.
Man United was two minutes away from having its name engraved on the Premier League trophy for the 13th time last season before City miraculously scored twice in added time against Queens Park Rangers to win the title on goal difference.
“It’s a cruel way (to lose the title),” Ferguson said at the time. “We’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I’ve been here. Most of them have been great — we’ve won the title three times on the last day. Today we nearly did it.”
While City has only the 2011 FA Cup to add to its first league title in 44 years, Ferguson is sufficiently wary of the spending power of owner Sheikh Mansour to try and significantly strengthen United’s squad. City’s Abu Dhabi-based owner has invested more than $1 billion since taking over the club in 2008.
The 70-year-old Ferguson needed an experienced striker to sharpen United’s attack for the season ahead and he can’t have done much better than the deal announced Wednesday night for Arsenal’s Robin van Persie.
The Netherlands international was the Premier League’s top scorer last season with 30 goals and will make a formidable strike force with Wayne Rooney.
Ferguson has also signed playmaker Shinji Kagawa, the first Japanese footballer to play for United. Kagawa joined from Borussia Dortmund after scoring 21 goals in 49 Bundesliga appearances.
A bid to sign 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura was trumped by big-spending Paris St. Germain’s reported €43 million offer.
Ferguson will be hoping all new arrivals help the team improve in the Champions League following its exit at the group stage last season. Especially with the final this season being held at Wembley Stadium, the site of United’s 2011 loss to Barcelona for the title.
United has been boosted by the return of central defender and captain Nemanja Vidic, who missed the majority of last season because of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee.
“It was frustrating, but obviously I knew I would be out for six months,” Vidic said. “It’s hard, but it’s part of the football career. Any sportsman has the risk of injuries and hopefully this is the past and better days are coming for me.”
Another long-term absentee in line to return is Darren Fletcher. The Scotland captain hasn’t played since December 2011 due to a bowel condition called ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
Ferguson said in July that Fletcher wouldn’t be fit to start the season, but he has been training with the Scottish national squad and would be a boost if he returns earlier than expected. The midfielder has made 300 appearances for United and 58 for Scotland.
A recurring feature of Ferguson’s victorious regime at United is that he has eventually vanquished all threats.
Chelsea is on its sixth manager in Roberto Di Matteo since Mourinho’s departure in 2007. Despite winning the Champions League last season, Chelsea slumped to sixth in the league and hasn’t come close to replicating the Portuguese’s success in also winning the FA Cup and two League Cups. Arsenal hasn’t won a trophy since beating United in the 2005 FA Cup final on penalties.
Ferguson will be hoping he has seen off the challenge of another rival by May 2013, one a lot closer to home.