Manchester United: 15 Biggest Questions in Sir Alex's Quest for UCL Glory
Manchester United's relative lack of Champions League glory in the Sir Alex Ferguson era has been well-documented, but compared with the other big-hitters in Europe, can we really say that this is the case?
Since the Red Devils' inaugural campaign in 1993-94, the trophy with the big ears has resided in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet just twice, but since then, only three teams have won it more—Barcelona, AC Milan and Real Madrid, all three of whom have won it on three occasions.
United's European woes in the early 2000s are difficult to explain, especially considering the fact that the Scotsman's side failed to advance past the first knockout stage once before 2007.
In the past, fantastic attacking talents like Ruud van Nistelrooy came and went unrewarded.
This season, Sir Alex's side have been irrepressible in attack, scoring goals with ease.
But the defensive woes need to be addressed sooner rather than later, before the tactical behemoths of the continent come to town—which will be inevitable if a deep run is to occur.
This question and fourteen others are posed in this article—all of which need to be answered if the big one is to be won in the twilight years of the greatest managerial era of all time.
What Role Will the Young Guns Play in the Competition?
Sir Alex Ferguson has traditionally been a manager unafraid of giving youth a chance, but this season, this practice has been somewhat stunted.
In previous Champions League campaigns, Ryan Giggs has been a prominent part of United's first-choice central midfield, but to start the Welshman against the elite European clubs would be near-suicidal.
Young defenders Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, when both return from long-term injuries, may have difficulty getting first-team football in place of Rafael, Jonny Evans and Nemanja Vidic.
Whilst Tom Cleverley's role in the team is as yet uncertain, due to recent shifts in tactical strategy.
For Sir Alex, fitting these players into his plans, if he intends to do so, will be a hot topic for debate, come the new year.
Is Rio Ferdinand Still a Part of United's First-Choice Back Line?
With age comes an inevitable loss of pace, as Rio Ferdinand has been gradually finding out the hard way over the course of the past few seasons.
Granted, if the central defender was plying his trade at a lesser Premier League club, he'd be one of the first names on the team sheet.
But at Manchester United, the margin for error is smaller than that at just about every other club in world football.
When Europe's finest attacking players come to Old Trafford later in Champions League competition, will Rio be more of a liability than an asset?
Are Traditional Wingers Still the Answer in European Competition?
The chances of a team triumphing in Champions League competition deploying a 4-4-2 formation are incredibly slim these days, which poses the question—how will Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young figure into Sir Alex's plans further down the line?
Valencia, United's best and most traditional winger, does not have the skills to play in more of an inside role in a 4-2-3-1; everyone in world football knows full well he has no left foot.
If the Red Devils are to persevere with the diamond formation, neither Young nor Valencia would have a place in the team, nor would they in the 4-3-3.
Which poses the question, should both be worried for their places in the lineup in key knockout games?
If Sir Alex's Retirement Rumours Build, Will That Unsettle the Team?
Before his long-suffering wife convinced him otherwise, Sir Alex Ferguson's plan to retire in 2002 had an adverse effect on his team in the 2001/02 season.
A talented squad with legendary players at their peak went unrewarded, as the Scotsman's exit loomed over the club like an impending natural disaster.
If word got out that Sir Alex was contemplating stepping down at the end of the current season, the consequences could be dire.
Pep Guardiola may know something we don't, but United fans will be hoping that his secret remains exactly that.
Should the Italian Clubs Give United Reason for Concern?
Provided Manchester United draw either AC Milan or Juventus in the knockout stages of competition (though at the moment there are no guarantees that either team will make it out of their respective groups), would they give Sir Alex reason for concern?
In Milan's case, my hesitation is to respond to that question with a resounding "no."
Although Stephan El Shaarawy has the potential to make as big a splash as Kaka did in 2007, the soon to be manager-less squad is as weak as it has been in recent memory.
But in the case of the Andrea Pirlo-inspired Juventus, I'm sure Sir Alex would be less confident heading into the clash.
The Turin side haven't been as strong these past few months as they were last season, but on their day, they have the tactical discipline to compete with just about anyone in world football.
Is There a Legitimate Backup Plan If Robin Van Persie Gets Injured?
There were scoffs in North London when Sir Alex decided to shell out £24 million for an injury-prone veteran this summer, but as yet, the move has proven more than justified.
But considering his past, there still remains the legitimate worry that the Dutchman may succumb to injury later in the season.
If that were to occur, what would the backup plan be, in the Scotsman's mind?
Would either Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernandez get a promotion, or would Wayne Rooney have to revert back to the centre-forward role he has played the majority of his career?
Will a Defensive Box-to-Box Midfielder Arrive in January?
If one was to pinpoint the biggest weakness in the current Manchester United squad, the lack of a true defensive box-to-box midfielder would be the most significant.
The days of Roy Keane patrolling the middle of the pitch seem ages ago, and in truth, the Irish stalwart has never been replaced.
United won the 2007-08 Champions League playing three in the middle, but if a repeat performance is to be made, one has to think that Michael Carrick alone isn't enough to dominate.
Kevin Strootman currently seems to be at the top of the shopping list, but does Sir Alex really have plans to enter the transfer market in January?
Is Wayne Rooney's Switch to Attacking Midfield Permanent?
In my mind, Wayne Rooney is currently playing some of the best football of his career in his newfangled attacking midfield role.
He may not be scoring as many goals in the position as he has in previous seasons, but with Van Persie doing that job, he doesn't really need to.
His contribution in midfield has been far greater and more influential. He has run the middle of the park with his typical tenacity and guile.
But is this role a permanent one?
Could Sir Alex Contend with Jurgen Klopp's Borussia Dortmund?
The key reason for Sir Alex Ferguson's success and longevity at the top of his profession has been his remarkable ability to adapt to the changing tide of world football.
As seen in their recent victory over Real Madrid and their dominant performance at Eastlands, the emerging Borussia Dortmund pose a legitimate threat to any club who would be unlucky enough to meet them later in the competition.
Their young manager Jurgen Klopp is a proficient tactical mind who is able to get the very best out of his players on a regular basis.
Would Sir Alex have a game plan to tackle the German champions?
Is David De Gea the Man for the Big Occasion?
Sir Alex Ferguson is playing the rotation game with his goalkeepers, but when push comes to shove, is this one tactic that will persist, come the big occasion?
Put simply, if Manchester United are still alive come the quarters or semis of the Champions League, would it do either David de Gea or Anders Lindegaard any good to be uncertain of whether or not they're going to be in the starting XI?
As shown in the weekend's controversial clash at Stamford Bridge, De Gea is one heck of a shot-stopper.
His reflexes are incredible, even if his lack of physical dominance doesn't suit the rigours of the British game.
But will he have the edge over the reliable Lindegaard further down the track?
Will the Barcelona Hoodoo Continue?
It was no disgrace that Manchester United lost to one of the greatest teams ever assembled in both the 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals.
But with the likes of Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi still in top form, if the two clubs were to meet yet again in the competition this season, would Sir Alex have an answer for their excellence, which he has so sorely lacked previously?
Sure, United beat the Blaugrana on their way to glory in 2008, but Barca have been playing on a completely different wavelength since then-boss Frank Rijkaard's departure.
Will a third time be the charm for Sir Alex's side?
Does This Current Squad Have the Winning Mentality?
Forget tactics, forget theory: What is the biggest factor that separates the contenders from the pretenders in football?
A winning mentality.
Pure and simple—United had it in 1999, and they had it in 2008, but is this current squad of players built of sterner stuff than those of previous seasons?
Newcomer Robin van Persie may not have won much silverware in North London, but his hunger and thirst for glory was the main motivation for making the move up north.
Will his hunger be rewarded this season?
Will Patrice Evra and Rafael's Defensive Weaknesses Be Exploited?
Full-backs Rafael and Patrice Evra may be capable players going forward, but neither are particularly reliable in defensive situations.
Both are regularly caught out of position, and are serious liabilities in the air.
It doesn't seem like Sir Alex is planning on reinforcing in either position in January, which poses the question: Can his side go all the way without running into teams that can utilise the flanks as effectively as United themselves have historically been able to do?
Is Robin Van Persie the X-Factor United Need?
In the early 90's, Eric Cantona inspired Manchester United, not just on the pitch with his effervescent abilities, but on the training ground too, pushing his teammates to new heights and leading by example.
Though still in the early stages of his time in Manchester, Robin van Persie has seemed to be just that X-factor that the Red Devils so sorely needed last season.
With him in the side, a new dimension has been added to the team, not to mention a few goals, too.
Is the Dutch hitman the sort of player to strike fear into the hearts of those who lie in United's path in European competition?
Will Luck Be on United's Side?
Preparation and talent make up about 95 percent of a team's chances of winning; luck fills out that quota.
Manchester United have outplayed teams in Champions League competition before, and yet found themselves on the losing end of several sour upsets.
All Sir Alex needs to worry about is putting his team in the best possible position to win.
Lady Luck will worry about the rest.
What questions do you think need to be posed in regards to Manchester United's quest for Champions League glory?