Manchester United: 5 Areas Sir Alex Must Improve on Next Season
Manchester United may well have won this season's Premier League at a canter and by margins that border on "historic", but that isn't to say the champions are going to let complacency creep in by resting on their laurels.
Manager Sir Alex Ferguson has already stated that his side are going to be competitive during the summer transfer window, and if there are certain areas of the pitch the veteran Scotsman feels are in need of improvement, he seldom hesitates to do so by moving certain individuals on.
Yes, this is a squad that has collectively marched toward the Premier League title, but this season has not been one without disappointment, and mistakes have been made.
Another year without winning the FA Cup, another year without winning the Champions League—it would be unwise to believe this is a side that does not need improvement.
Here, we take a look at five areas of the squad Sir Alex must improve on next season.
At the beginning of the season, United's defence was in turmoil. In the first 19 games of the campaign, the Reds conceded 28 goals, an average of 1.47 per match. David de Gea was the target of much criticism having put in numerous shaky displays and was subsequently heavily rotated alongside No. 2 Anders Lindegaard between September and December.
But even that policy didn't seem to work as the Dane put in similarly unconvincing performances and kept just two clean sheets in the eight games he featured in, and United's defence continued to leak goals.
By January, United had already racked up their worst defensive record in 11 years and, coupled with Ferguson's indecision regarding who his No. 1 was, uncertainty among the back four was rife.
Since those nervy days de Gea has enjoyed a renaissance having conceded just five Barclays Premier League goals in 2013, while Lindegaard has been banished to the bench seemingly never to play again this season.
The former Aalesund shot-stopper has not featured at all since that ridiculous 4-3 win over Reading on December 1st, which only seemed to underline his own frailties.
The problem now seems to have shifted from No. 1 to No. 2 and perhaps United need to buy a higher quality understudy for de Gea to keep the Spaniard on his toes, someone like Julio Cesar of relegated QPR who wouldn't mind being rotated.
By doing so, Ferguson would ensure he has his bases covered should de Gea's form take another dip.
Keeping with the theme of United's woeful defensive record at the turn of the year, there remain other areas of United's back four that are crying out for improvement. One of them, namely is at left-back.
In Patrice Evra, Ferguson has a defender who is nearing the end of his playing career. The veteran Frenchman will turn 32 later this month and age appears to be catching up with him.
Evra has quite clearly lost that yard of pace and as such when he does dart forward in attack, he doesn't track back quickly enough, being caught out of position time and time again this season. He has been a wonderful servant to the club and has been one of the United's best left-backs for a number of years now, but the time is rapidly approaching for Ferguson to put a fatherly arm round his shoulder and tell him his time has been and gone.
Finally we touch on the heart of United's back four, namely the centre-back pairing of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand whom, when ages are put together, tally retirement age.
Like Evra, the time is quickly approaching for them to be moved on, more so in Ferdinand's case, considering he will be 35 in November.
Ferguson has attempted to keep the pair fresh through squad rotation and rarely plays the two together anymore, instead preferring Jonny Evans as a defensive partner for at least one of them. This is a sensible move as United are getting the most out of the duo but the fact the pair rarely play side by side anymore is indicative of times to come at Old Trafford.
If we're thinking about replacements, there's "home grown" options in Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, or Ferguson could of course dip into his wallet and buy Borussia Dortmund's £25 million-rated Mats Hummels.
Whatever the case, centre-back is an area of concern and one that Ferguson needs to address sooner rather than later.
The problems facing Manchester United in centre midfield have been quite apparent for years now, and were ruthlessly highlighted by Ferguson's side's two defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League Final both in 2009 and 2011.
Now, with Paul Scholes likely to re-retire at the end of the season and Giggs surely entering his final furlong, coupled with the likely sale of Anderson and uncertainty regarding the ill Darren Fletcher, centre midfield needs addressing more than ever.
Not since the days of Roy Keane have United had a solid, game-changing central midfielder who can put a shift in at both ends of the pitch, and though Michael Carrick has been impressive alongside the upcoming Tom Cleverley, he too is nearing the end of his career at 31.
One more area of concern is the wide areas. Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young have been ineffectual this season while Nani looks almost certain to leave in the summer.
The impending arrival of Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace in the summer will abate some of the issues posing United on the flanks next season, but the feeling is Ferguson needs to buy at least one more winger.
The obvious choice would be the supremely talented James Rodrigues of Porto, an individual who has been linked with the Reds recently.
Endowed with silky dribbling skills, blistering speed, defence-splitting creativity, neat ball control and powerful shots, the Colombian has been likened to Cristiano Ronaldo, which is just about the greatest compliment you can afford to any footballer, particularly one who is only 21 years old.