The champions head into the 2009-10 championship without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, players who scored 60 percent of their goals in the last two seasons.
Cristiano Ronaldo was their talisman, scoring goals with the frequency of a center forward, and Tevez had become a fan-favourite mainly because of his industrious, energetic displays and knack for scoring important goals.
Sir Alex Ferguson is no stranger to these situations, as he has foreseen the departures of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, et al, and he always knows what’s best for the club.
In the summer, Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan, and Mame Biram Diouf signed for the club in low-profile deals that haven’t really stirred up the imaginations of the fans.
Owen as a replacement for Tevez is a fantastic piece of business both on and off the pitch from the gaffer. Tevez could have cost £25 million, and he isn’t as prolific as Owen, who joined on a free. If he can remain fit for most part of the season, he should score more than the five league goals Tevez managed last season.
The hard part will be replacing Ronaldo. But, as Ferguson put, he was a one-off and isn’t a player that can be easily replaced, and thus Ferguson will have to tinker with his side’s formation to accommodate his departure.
But in Antonio Valencia, they've got pace, power, and directness. He is kind of an old-fashioned winger who beats his marker and puts in numerous crosses, so he should be able to create lots of chances for the forwards.
Gabriel Obertan is all potential, but he has plenty of it; with pace and trickery, he should develop into a very good player for them.
Defensively with players like Brown, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, and the emerging talents of Johnny Evans, Rafael, Fabio, and Ritchie De Laet, not to mention three good goalkeepers in Van der Sar, Foster, and Kuszcak, they remain very formidable in that department.
Up front, they have the talents of Wayne Rooney, who has been handed his favoured central role, and the classy playmaking abilities of Dimitar Berbatov, which should be well-complemented by Michael Owen and the eager-to-impress "Kiko" Macheda and Danny Welbeck.
In midfield they have plenty of options. With Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher, Nani, Park, Valencia, Tosic, Obertan, Scholes, Giggs, Hargreaves (if fit), Gibson and the emerging talents of Matt James, they shouldn’t have many problems.
As a team, the Red Mancunians still look very formidable, and for me they are still the favourites to retain the league title mostly because any complacency they would have had has been washed out by the departure of Ronaldo and that defeat by Barcelona in Rome.
The team now has to prove that they can survive without their talismanic player for the last three seasons, and many players are now sensing an opportunity to take over control of the team, and so expect to see many spirited performances from most of them this season.
Players To Watch
Rooney, Berbatov, Anderson, and Nani
Emerging Talents To Watch
Macheda, Rafael, Fabio, Welbeck, Gibson, Ljajic, Tosic, De Laet, and Matt James