Fergie using City clash to run rule over new arrivals
Published 01/08/2011 | 05:00
Manchester United have vowed to treat next Sunday's Community Shield as part of their pre-season campaign despite the "tasty" nature of their clash with Manchester City.
It is less than four months since City overcame their old rivals in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, the penultimate stage in ending a 35-year trophy drought.
On the same day Roberto Mancini's men were completing that significant task, United secured their record 19th league title, ensuring the most significant warm-up for the Premier League campaign will be between the two Manchester giants for the first time since 1956.
It seemed certain the significance of the occasion would have some bearing on Alex Ferguson's tactics.
However, United assistant-manager Mike Phelan is adamant the match will be used for fitness, even if the stakes are rather higher than normal.
"It is no different," said Phelan. "It is a tasty one, of course, because it is the two Manchester clubs coming up against each other. But we may try out a few new things. We have a week to prepare. The FA Cup semi-final was disappointing. But this is a new season.
"We will have a look at a few new players to see if they can handle it and take us into the league. That is what it is all about. Manchester United is all about challenges. You get them every day. Next Sunday will be no different."
If there was anything to be gleaned from Ferguson's assessment of United's impressive 2-1 win over Barcelona in front of almost 82,000 at FedEx Field, it is that England U-21 midfielder Tom Cleverley has put himself right in the frame.
As long as confusion surrounds a planned move for Inter Milan's Wesley Sneijder -- Ferguson has denied tabling a take-it-or-leave-it offer for the Dutch maestro -- United will have to make do with what they have.
And the 21-year-old, who helped Wigan beat the drop on loan last season, could be a beneficiary.
Ferguson made him man-of-the-match against a Barcelona side that might have been lacking Lionel Messi and Xavi but still boasted huge amounts of experience.
"It's an area we have to find a solution for," said the United boss. "Physically, Tom is not the strongest but he is wiry and has a great idea of the game.
"He is a good footballer. His discipline was terrific. He is a quick passer of the ball. He has good eyes. It was a big night for him. He is a big, strong possibility for us to start the season."
United flew home last night in contended mood. While the defeat of Barcelona does not begin to erase the memory of a one-sided Champions League final defeat United nine weeks earlier, it should ensure no inferiority complex starts to develop.
It also allowed the Red Devils to complete their five-match tour with a 100pc record, scoring 20 goals in the process. Wayne Rooney finished as top marksman with four, one ahead of Michael Owen and Park Ji-sung.
Yet Phelan knows United can take nothing for granted over the coming weeks.
Ferguson has already revealed a belief than any one of five teams are capable of lifting the championship this season. And Phelan acknowledges United will need to be at their peak quickly if they are to retain their title.
"Manchester United always have to play well," said Phelan. "We always have to be in contention to win things. It will be no different next season. If anything it will be even harder.
"We worked very hard to achieve what we have in the past. Next season will be very difficult because there are a lot more threats now than there has ever been before."
Happily, Javier Hernandez was able to fly home despite suffering concussion during training on Tuesday, although Ferguson has revised his estimate for the striker's recovery to three to four weeks rather than the two he initially suggested.
Ferguson is also confident Rafael, who came off following a crunching tackle with Sergio Busquets early in the game, will be fully fit for the opening weeks of the new season.