2009 Manchester United Starting XI: Already Good Enough?
So far, the summer of 2009 for Manchester United has seen comings and goings of highly touted football talent.
Departures of stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, along with the aging of those who remain have provoked fans and pundits to ask the question, "Can United defend their league title and still challenge in Europe?"
The question surely must irk United fans and higher-ups as well, as it has prompted the signings of Michael Owen and, more importantly, Antonio Valencia so far in a quest to fill voids that have been left.
With his abundant transfer kitty, Sir Alex Ferguson will definitely still be looking to add more to a side which has lot a considerable amount of talent.
However, we'll look here see that the team under his belt could already be good enough to play with and defeat anyone.
Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Sar
At 38, Van der Sar is entering what could be his final year in top-flight football. United's number one choice could be poised for his best yet though, as the defence in front of him continues to grow together and improve.
He will be looking to build on a 2008-09 year that saw him break a European record for not conceding a goal, win the Barclays Golden Glove for most cleansheets in the Premier League, and named the top EPL keeper as he made the PFA Team of the Year.
Back-ups Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak could feature more as Alex Ferguson searches for a future replacement, but surely the Dutchman will be called upon to face the toughest competition.
Left Back: Patrice Evra
Despite a few rough patches such as a suspension for an altercation after a game with Chelsea and a dip in form mid-season, Patrice still showed his value as the Premiership's best left back.
He was named to the PFA Team of the Year and a was a contributing cause to the immovable object that was United's defence.
Nothing suggests that Evra will not repeat his level of performance, as he has maintained it for the past three seasons. His ability to help United control the game on the left, even from the back is of major importance.
And in a season before the 2010 World Cup, Evra will be looking to prove he deserves to be selected in France's first team ahead of Barcelona's Eric Abidal.
Center Back: Nemanja Vidic
Vidic experienced a wonderful season last year which saw him considered as one of the most effective center backs in the Premier League, if not the world.
His partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the center was regarded as the primary reason for United's defensive success through a large portion of the season. His physical, non-stop play along with his ability in the air made him a definitive force in a season that saw him nominated for the PFA Player of the Year Award.
It's thought that he or Liverpool's Steven Gerrard would've won it if not for teammate Ryan Giggs picking up the accolade.
There have grumblings that Vidic could leave this summer, but he has committed himself to United and will at the very least have another consistent year at the back.
Center Back: Rio Ferdinand
The other half of what was regarded as the reason for United's great defensive play, Rio Ferdinand had yet another solid year for the Red Devils.
In the absence of Gary Neville due to injury, the responsibility to organize the back four and the midfield in front has fallen to Rio. He also has the physicality of partner Vidic and rarely seems to make a mental mistake.
He does need to stay away from the trainer however. Injuries, seemed to give him problems at all the wrong times especially late on in Champion's League. While Johnny Evans is capable of stepping in at times, Ferdinand's presence can be missed.
If he does stay healthy, he can lead the back to a similar performance to last year.
Right Back: Rafael
There are multiple options at the right-back position, and anyone of those could possibly come forth as the first-team regular, but Rafael surely must be in the driver's seat.
With club captain Gary Neville still hampered by injury, Feguson relied upon the likes of Wes Brown, John O'Shea, and the 18-year-old Brazilian to step in for him.
Before being hit by injury, Rafael proved himself to be extremely capable in filling the spot. His ability to fluidly work up and down the right to assist United's attack, while still being able to get stuck in defensively showed he not only had potential, but ability to succeed now.
He was almost a mirror image of Evra on the left, but perhaps with a scoring prowess as evidenced by his volley in a loss to Arsenal.
His efforts also earned him a nomination for PFA Young Player of the Year. And after giving him handed a two year contract extension, Sir Alex Ferguson must feel that Rafael is only capable of being better.
Left Midfielder/Winger: Nani
This selection is likely to be the most mind-boggling, but it's a genuine possibility. Nani had a fantastic debut season with the Red Devils two years ago, but the last campaign saw him rarely start important matches and make fewer total appearances than his first.
It was arguably a circumstance of being in an unfortunate situation. Obviously there's Cristiano Ronaldo, but with others such as Park Ji-Sung and Ryan Giggs playing some of there best football in recent years, along with Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney venturing out wide in the midfield and being successful, opportunities were few and far between.
Add the fact that he struggled with a minor injury, and you can see why things went south. With Ronaldo waving goodbye and critics coming down heavily, the time is now for Nani to make a name for himself. We've all seen him at his best. His pace, skill on the ball, and service from the left during the run of play can make him an indispensable player.
SAF must know this or else he would've been gone already this summer. He'll be making the best of efforts to prove himself as the heir apparent to Ronaldo, but even if just returns to the form of his debut season, he'll be a factor again in helping United retain the Premier League and challenge in Europe.
Center Midfielder: Anderson
The Brazilian middle man used this past season to establish himself as a more of a first-team regular in United's midfield.
As somewhat of a 'Carlos Tevez' of the midfield, his high-speed activity in the middle can be a pain in the neck for other midfielders while also keeping possessions alive for his team.
He must improve in areas however, such a showing more of the play making prowess his possessed at Gremio and Porto. And he may have to become more attuned to working just as hard and being smarter defensively in order to makes things easier on Michael Carrick.
It's a lot to ask, but he is getting there as he continues to adjust more comfortably and find his place in the English game.
Center Midfielder: Michael Carrick
Michael Carrick has been one of the most consistent fixtures in United's midfield since his arrival. It's for good reason as ability to control the game from the center is highlighted with smart decision making and pinpoint passing.
He's also defensively aware and can get stuck in. It appears to he is the perfect compliment of style to the energetic Anderson, preferring patience and picking out the perfect long balls to place others in good positions.
Another player who will really be looking to impress before the World Cup, expect big things from Micahel Carrick.
Right Midfielder/Winger: Antonio Valencia
With the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, Ferguson quickly turned to the transfer market to find someone suitable enough to fill the shoes of a player who was so integral to the club's success.
He found part of the answer in the form of Wigan's Luis Antonio Valencia, signing him for £16 million. Undoubtedly, Valencia will face constant comparisons to the now Real Madrid player. While he likely will not stack up statistically, and may not have the same effect on a game, the Ecuadorian will be an effective player for United.
He has the pace and ability to get around defenders and he's very aware of those around him. He'll be perfect for quick counter-attack, much in the same way that Ronald was. Not much is said about him crossing the ball, but he has the ability to do so.
And while he won't score near 42 or 26, he'll score, as he has a powerful right foot. He wasn't the biggest name available, but he could have one of the biggest impacts.
Forward: Dimitar Berbatov
In what many regard as a disappointing season for such an expensive player, Dimitar Berbatov was not that terrible.
Seriously though, he wasn't.
Many expected much more than the 14 goals he scored in all competitions, but it wasn't entirely his fault. At Tottenham, the attack revolved around he and Robbie Keane, who worked well together. With United that was the case. Often when starting Berba was either used as a support man for Ronaldo or in tandem with Carlos Tevez.
Tevez often held the ball at his feet, dribbling at defences while Berba failed to work himself into a good position to do anything positive. And never had he been a supporting forward for someone else, that was Keane's job at Tottenham.
Berba often way more involved with midfield play than he was comfortable with. This to change. Expect Wayne Rooney to be the Robbie Keane to Berba's 2006-2008 Berbatov. The unselfish play of Rooney, along with service from the likes of Nani and Valencia, will set him up for success.
If there are no other signings to conflict with him having a chance to feature, he will definitely break 20 goals in all competitions.
Forward: Wayne Rooney
Despite not appearing on the score sheet as much as people would've like him to, Wayne Rooney had possibly his best year with United last season.
During the Champions League he saw himself shifted numerous times out wide in support of Ronaldo, and received nothing but positive reviews for his efforts.
Rooney will likely be looked to by United fans as the ultimate answer as to who will step in and fill the void left by forwards Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. He has all the ability in the world to do so.
He can be physical and keep possession in tight spaces or use his pace on the counter. He's a brilliant finisher and underrated in the air. He will bring other into the attack, and make them better.
The two major hitting points are: "Can he stay healthy?" and "Can he be a little more selfish?" Now that he seems poised to take up his preferred role as a center forward with those stars gone, Rooney could finally shine as a prolific goal scorer.
If his recent performances for England while playing up top are any indication, he will do just that.
Many things other than the ability of these players goes into being a champion. A team must also have depth, perform to its potential, stay healthy, and be consistent through what is a very long season, just to mention a few.
At this point no one will be satisfied with the squad as it is now. But if Ferguson does not manage to bring in a another person who will feature heavily, it's not the end of the world. There are quality players behind the ones mentioned here who have proven their worth.
There's Evans, O'Shea, Brown, Fabio, Fletcher, Hargreaves, Scholes, Giggs, Park, Tosic, Owen, and Welbeck. And that's not even all of them. Yes they have lost great players, but this is still a great team and it will be for a long time.
As things are, United should still be considered a real possibility to win domestically and in Europe.