Manchester United and Manchester City Clash With Eye on Next Season


Manchester United United's 20th championship is all but secured, which would take Sir Alex Ferguson's personal tally to 13, so his summer will surely be an enjoyable one. Still, the man who is all about perpetual improvement of the club may take a look at how the Champions League campaign foundered.

The chief question he could ask is whether he might have reacted more effectively to Nani's sending off – however unjust – in the last-16 second leg with Real Madrid at Old Trafford. As Ferguson was going ballistic, José Mourinho seized the chance to bring on Luka Modric and turn the tie from a losing position.

The other issue is the need to ensure the younger players – Phil Jones, David de Gea, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva – return even hungrier than last season.

Manchester City The first challenge for Roberto Mancini is to be in place for the new season. A win in tomorrow's Manchester derby and a second FA Cup triumph would make that more likely. If he remains, the Italian may wish to adjust his man-management style of calling his stars out in public. This term there have been public spats with Samir Nasri, Joe Hart, Vincent Kompany and Micah Richards.


Manchester United A question mark remains over the futures of Anderson, Nani, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney. The latter has two years remaining on his contract and Ferguson has stated he will be offered a new deal, yet a sense persists that Paris Saint-Germain may test the manager's resolve this summer.

Scholes could well retire (for a second and permanent time) as his 38 years and a knee injury have limited him to 19 appearances this term. Unlike Ryan Giggs, who has signed a fresh one-year contract, Scholes and Ferdinand have yet to do so and the central defender's future is to be decided in the close season. Fletcher's campaign was ended by colitis and Ferguson sounds a cautious note whenever he discusses the prospects of a return for the midfielder next season.

Inconsistent form is what may toll the bell for the United careers of Nani and Anderson. While the former has a fair claim as the most naturally talented player at Old Trafford, he does not turn it on enough when selected, though injuries have disrupted his campaign. Anderson's stock is even lower and he appears a firm favourite to be moved on.

United's central midfield lacks depth and they must hope Michael Carrick, who has started 27 league games, remains free of injury. As Scholes has faded and Giggs enters his 40th year, Cleverley has emerged as Carrick's first-choice partner. But Ferguson lacks competition for the pair.

Beyond this department the manager sounds content. "The likes of [Shinji] Kagawa will be much better next year, and we've got Rafael, De Gea, [Alexander] Buttner and Jones, who can do anything he wants to do. So it's looking good," he says.

Manchester City As many as 11 players could be heading for pastures new. Carlos Tevez, Nasri, Edin Dzeko, Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott, Kolo Touré, Roque Santa Cruz, Wayne Bridge, Scott Sinclair, Maicon and John Guidetti are all pondering where they may play next term.

Mancini hints that a splurge could be on the way: "We have our targets for the summer and I hope we can do this. I don't know how much money we can spend. I don't know this. But United in the past did spend a lot of money to buy important players. Now they don't need to spend every year, £100m. United are a top team, they just need to buy one top player every year because they are strong. For us it is different: we need to do it this way and maybe in the next three or four years we need only buy one player in the summer because we have a strong team."

Starting from the back, Mancini requires a stronger No2 goalkeeper to push Hart, while the injury problems of Maicon and Richards may mean another right-back is required. Kolo Touré and Lescott could depart, so central defenders are being scouted.

Jack Rodwell is battling ongoing hamstring problems and with his fellow midfielder Barry showing signs of his age at 32, this is another position that may require bolstering. Further forward, Nasri admits he has been disappointing this campaign so he may be sold and a fresh attacker recruited.

Finally, there are the forwards. Mario Balotelli's departure leaves at least one position vacant, and while Mancini likes Napoli's Edinson Cavani, he insists: "It's useless talking about Cavani or other players now. There are other teams who want these good players, so it's difficult to say now."


Manchester United David Gill steps down for the incoming Ed Woodward, so the dynamic between the new chief executive and Ferguson is one to observe. The Scot described Gill's exit as a "big loss" to him. Their relationship stretched back to 1997 when Gill joined the club, and he was the one executive on the ground who could stand up to Ferguson, becoming his closest confidant. The 40-year-old Woodward is a Glazers man: how he handles Ferguson will be the prime factor in the success of his tenure.

Manchester City This is the first summer for Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, respectively the chief executive and the director of football, and with City trailing too many points behind United the onus is on Mancini to gel with them.

Each of the two former Barcelona executives played pivotal roles in Yaya Touré signing a new four-year deal this week, and it is clear Mancini has ceded ground to them regarding recruitment, despite him saying: "I want to decide which players we take, this is normal for every manager. I have my job and Txiki will have his job. I don't want to go to talk with other teams to buy players, this is not my job. Like every sporting director, he will talk with me before buying players."


Manchester United Premier League form suggests that Ferguson's 4-2-3-1 requires scant tinkering. Yet when teams have got on top of them as, say, Tottenham Hotspur did last September when winning 3-2 at Old Trafford, the ability to play short, patient passes in midfield to quieten a game or thrust centrally to turn sides on their heels can go missing.

Adding this capacity to his side would also help Ferguson prevail in the Champions League. In their defeat by Real Madrid, United lacked a Plan B – they may have rallied to finish impressively but they lost, and the manager hates losing.

Manchester City If the whispers are correct and City plan to play the formation favoured by Barcelona, then next season it will be fascinating to see how the Blues and their opponents deal with the change.

Begiristain is behind the move to a shape familiar from his time at the Catalan club and this is a further indication of how his authority grows and Mancini's evolves. The big implication of a 4-3-3 system is for the strikers. With only one, in the middle of the front trident, the others must be fast and flexible enough to play either side. Tevez, who often operates in the No10 position, could do so with ease; Dzeko less so.


Manchester United For Ferguson the message to City, Chelsea and the rest of the league's elite is stark. "We're not going away," says the Scot as he nurses hopes of building yet another dynasty. Ferguson, who has faith in a young maturing squad, has already identified the totem for this new era: "Jones is going to be a fantastic player, his talent is unbelievable," he says. "He's an animal for football. He grasps the game, he understands it."

Manchester City Of the gap with United, Mancini says: "In this moment it should be five or six points. Yes it will be closer on points next season." Yet the Champions League is key to City's ambitions. It is hard to see the manager staying if City miss the knockout phase for a third successive season, unless they happen to be 10 points clear in the league. However, a run to the semi-finals would be deemed by the club a quantum leap of progress.

Powered by article was written by Jamie Jackson, for The Observer on Saturday 6th April 2013 22.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Paolo Camera

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