Last season: 1st
FA Cup: Semi-finals
Carling Cup: 5th Round
Champions League: Runners-up
Opening three fixtures: West Brom (a), Tottenham (h), Arsenal (h)
Transfers in: Phil Jones (Blackburn, undisclosed), Ashley Young (Aston Villa, undisclosed), David de Gea (Atletico Madrid, undisclosed).
Transfers out: Joe Dudgeon (Hull, undisclosed), Paul Scholes (retired), Bebe (Besiktas, loan), Ritchie de Laet (Norwich, loan), Edwin van der Sar (retired), Owen Hargreaves (released), Conor Devlin (released), Nicky Ajose (Peterborough, undisclosed), Wes Brown (Sunderland, undisclosed), John O’Shea (Sunderland, undisclosed), Ryan Tunnicliffe (Peterborough, loan), Scott Wootton (Peterborough, loan), Robbie Brady (Hull, loan), Oliver Gill (released), Gabriel Obertan (Newcastle, undisclosed)
Title odds: 3/2
Despite finishing nine points clear of rivals Chelsea and Manchester City last season, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have recruited well over the summer and after an impressive pre-season which culminated in victory over City in the Community Shield, they again look to be the team to beat this season.
To be top of the league on 1st January 2012 odds: 2/1
Although renowned as steady starters who routinely hit their stride after the turn of the year, United will be looking to improve in this area so as to allow more focus on the latter stages of the Champions League, although last season’s runners up position suggests they coped with the twin pressures suitably. Odds of 2/1 offer better value than even the Premier League title market and could be a very good bet if United’s pre-season performances are anything to go by.
United to finish more than 4.5 points ahead of Man City: 17/20
Manchester rivals City have also made some decent signings this summer, most notably Sergio Aguero, but a lot will depend on how well he settles and fits into Roberto Mancini’s side. However, the saga surrounding another Argentinian – Carlos Tevez – and the erratic behaviour of striker Mario Balotelli threatens to derail City’s season before it even begins. Whatever happens, they won’t be far behind the leaders and with the spending power at their disposal in the rest of this transfer window and in January, City cannot be ruled out of the title race and should push United hard. The 4.5 points handicap could well break down to the two fixtures between the rivals this season, but with City having taken only one point off United in the last three Premier League campaigns, it may be too much of a deficit for the Citizens to overturn.
United to finish more than 8.5 points ahead of Arsenal: 17/20
Arsene Wenger has endured a tough summer so far, with constant rumours surrounding the future of key players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, who both now look to be on their way out of the club. Though Arsenal’s only major signing thus far, Gervinho, looks to be a very good player, Wenger seems again unwilling to spend big money, even with a reported £60 million coming in from player sales. Should Fabregas and Nasri both depart the Emirates, it will leave Arsenal with problems in midfield, as well as the well-documented defensive issues they already have. Injuries could also play a part this season, with Robin Van Persie often spending long periods on the sidelines, leaving a distinct lack of cutting edge up front. Nicklas Bendtner’s future remains uncertain, and though young players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson have joined the Gunners, it is difficult to see how they could hope to press for the title. A 9.5 point handicap is representative of the strides they need to make to challenge Manchester United, and with this looking like another season of transition for the north London side the gap could prove too wide to close.
United to finish more than 11.5 points ahead of Liverpool: 17/20
Liverpool have spent big money ever since the sale of Fernando Torres in January, and the signings they have made since then have no doubt strengthened the side. An extremely high wage bill is reportedly crippling further recruitment but the Anfield outfit have added width with the signing of Stewart Downing and ensured supply for £35 million man Andy Carroll with the addition of Charlie Adam. Again, injuries could play a part as there does not seem to be as much strength in depth in the squad compared to either of the Manchester clubs or Chelsea, but Liverpool will be aiming to reclaim a place in the top four this season, and should be there or thereabouts come next May. Though they won’t expect to challenge for the title, Liverpool fans will not accept another season so far behind the leading clubs, and an 11.5 point handicap ensures a very tempting bet. The first few games of the season will be crucial, as it may well take some time for all of the new signings at Anfield to settle and gel together and they will not want to find themselves too far adrift of United early on.
United to score more goals than Chelsea: 17/20
Having scored nine more goals than Chelsea last season, United will hope to build on this, having added Ashley Young’s attacking prowess and with persistent rumours of interest in Wesley Sneijder. Chelsea are set to wrap up the signing of young Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku from Anderlecht, though it is difficult to see how he would break into the first team this season ahead of Drogba, Torres or Anelka. Chelsea fans will argue that with just a few goals from Fernando Torres they will score more than United, but it is difficult to see Wayne Rooney suffering anything like the loss of form he did last season, and with the wealth of attacking options at Sir Alex Ferguson’s disposal – including joint-Premier League top scorer Dimitar Berbatov – the Red Devils look a safe bet to be banging in the goals again this season.
United will be looking to add to their record 19 domestic league titles this year, having brought in several players this summer. Manchester rivals City are, for the first time in recent memory, United’s biggest rivals, and the desire to quieten their “noisy neighbours” should see the Red Devils through to the title, making them a good value bet at odds of 3/2.
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