Predicting Manchester United's First-Choice Starting XI for the 2013-14 Season
Aside from boosting fitness levels and introducing his own brand of football to his new set of players, David Moyes' primary aim during preseason is to establish his strongest Manchester United XI.
If the pressures of following on from Sir Alex Ferguson were not intimidating enough, Moyes faces a particularly daunting set of opening fixtures, including early Premier League clashes against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.
In short, he needs to decipher his best XI immediately or risk being cut adrift in the title race.
Moyes was renowned for his fondness of 4-4-1-1 at Everton, which will almost certainly morph into a more fashionable—and attacking—4-2-3-1 approach at United; a system that's already familiar at Old Trafford.
With that formation in mind, here's a look at what could potentially be Manchester United's strongest lineup going into the new season, taking a few transfer rumours into consideration.
David de Gea is a certainty to start in goal next season and for many seasons to come.
While his first campaign contained a number of slightly hesitant moments, the Spaniard fully acclimatised to the Premier League during his second year, producing a high level of consistency that saw him voted into the PFA Team of the Year.
At right-back, Rafael da Silva was another one of last season's most improved players, and will start alongside the established centre-back duo of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand—fitness permitting.
United possess substantial depth in reserve at centre-back and, considering the patchy injury records of both Ferdinand and Vidic, any of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Jonny Evans could be elevated to first choice during the season.
If David Moyes has his way then Everton's Leighton Baines would slot in a left-back. However, for the moment, the two clubs appear way off in valuation, which may scupper the deal and leave Patrice Evra to continue.
In midfield, Michael Carrick was one of United's best players last season and will be one of the first names on the team-sheet under Moyes.
Who plays alongside him is more of a debate. Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs and Anderson are among those vying for selection, but expect Moyes to land a high-profile central midfielder and partner for Carrick by the time the season gets going.
At the moment that looks to be Cesc Fabregas, per Sky Sports. He can be effective in most central midfield roles and would compliment Carrick well, while another option could be Marouane Fellaini.
Out wide, Antonio Valencia wasn't always in top form last season, yet still seems United's leading right-sided performer, providing a reliable flow of crosses into the box. Ashley Young is the best option cutting in from the left, and balances the attack nicely with Valencia, while Wilfried Zaha and Nani offer strong depth in reserve..
Which player not in this XI should be starting?
After 26 Premier League goals in his inaugural campaign for United, Robin van Persie is guaranteed to lead the line again, with Javier Hernandez a more than capable reserve. Just behind the striker, Wayne Rooney will compete with the likes of Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa—as long as he stays at the club.
Despite the current commotion surrounding Rooney's future, per the Daily Mail, there's a distinct lack of realistic destinations for the striker, and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him remain at Old Trafford.
In this particular lineup, Kagawa and Hernandez are the toughest omissions as both have strong cases to start the majority of the season. For Hernandez, unless the formation is drastically altered, the class of Van Persie means he will often remain in reserve.
Kagawa has far more potential to regularly start and can be included if Rooney shifts to the flanks. However, while Rooney is typically industrious out wide, he's far less effective, and for the key matches each position needs a player fully accomplished in the role.
Given Moyes' inexperience at the very top level, many envisage this coming campaign being one of the more open Premier League seasons in recent memory.
United's rivals have certainly used the transfer window to bolster their squads yet there's a strong blend of quality and experience on display in this lineup. If Moyes can deploy similar personnel during next season's crunch ties, his new side should be right in the mix to retain the title.
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