Barclays English Premier League |
MU confidence sky high
As Manchester United's players strolled onto their Carrington training pitch this week, the confidence currently surging through the club was instantly discernable.
There was a spring in their step that suggested they would happily start their Premiership title defence right now rather than have to wait until Sunday for the opening game against Reading at Old Trafford.
All the pieces are falling into place for Sir Alex Ferguson as he begins his 21st season in charge at United.
His 50 million pounds spending spree has added youthful verve to a side already crammed with world-class players and Ferguson believes he may have assembled the most talented squad he has ever worked with.
Owen Hargreaves played his first match last weekend since his move from Bayern Munich and will stabilise the midfield when he is fully fit, while Portuguese winger Nani has already impressed his new teammates with some scintillating training performances.
Anderson and Carlos Tevez, when his protracted transfer from West Ham is finally rubber-stamped, will bring bucket-loads of flair to compliment Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs.
As if they weren't reasons enough to approach the new campaign with enthusiasm, United inflicted an early psychological blow on Chelsea thanks to Edwin van der Sar's penalty heroics in the Community Shield.
The fragile state of Jose Mourinho's injury-ravaged squad has added to the sense that everything is going in United's favour.
Rio Ferdinand's sky-high confidence was apparent from the way he nonchalantly stroked his penalty past Petr Cech in the Wembley shoot-out.
The England defender believes United are in such good shape that they have no reason to be concerned by Chelsea or any of their other title rivals.
"I don't really care what Chelsea do because it has no bearing on our season," Ferdinand said. "I am happy with what we are doing. That is all I am interested in.
"The manager's dealings in the transfer market have been very good. We are better prepared now than we were last season.
"Anderson and Nani are fantastic footballers with great potential and everyone knows all about Owen Hargreaves anyway."
The last time United won the title in 2003, Arsenal took it off them a year later, but Ferdinand is convinced they can cope with being the team to beat again this season.
He said: "I don't have much experience of defending titles do I? I know the start of the season was good but it ended up being a difficult year, much different to the way I imagined.
"Yes, teams may want to beat you that little bit more and adjust the way they play. But we do a lot of training to combat that and it is down to us to ensure we do."
The most intriguing question at Old Trafford this season is how Ferguson manages to combine similar talents of Rooney and Tevez.
Like Rooney, his new Argentine colleague has functioned best as a deep-lying striker. But Ferdinand has already had plenty of positive feedback from his brother Anton, who played with Tevez at West Ham last season, and he has no doubts he will prove to be worth the months of transfer wrangling.
"I have spoken to Anton about him loads," Ferdinand said. "My brother is always saying what a fantastic footballer Tevez is and he thinks he will be a great acquisition for us.
"As players, we are just like fans really. We are really excited to have new players coming in and can't wait to see what they can do.
"He has only trained with us a couple of times but already we can see what he is all about."