Ferguson: Chelsea the biggest threat
Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United come face to face with the biggest obstacle to their quest to reclaim domestic superiority this season when they take on Chelsea in Sunday's Community Shield.
Although Manchester City have once again been England's biggest spenders this summer, Liverpool have kept hold of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard and Tottenham are buoyed by a favourable Champions League qualifying draw, Ferguson is adamant last season's double winners are the team to beat.
Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has been active in the transfer market, striking early to lure Yossi Benayoun south from Anfield and then agreeing an £18m (€21.5m) fee with Benfica for Brazilian midfielder Ramires.
And, although there are still doubts hanging over the futures of defensive duo Ashley Cole and Ricardo Carvalho, Ferguson will be looking to Stamford Bridge for the main danger this term.
"With the experience Chelsea have got, you have to look at them being the biggest threat," said Ferguson.
"They won the league and the cup last year and I do think you have to see the team that won the league as the ones you look at.
"I don't see why anyone should think any different. Chelsea have the experience. You can't dismiss them."
Not that Ferguson is ignoring the other challengers either.
He has been saying for years now that the general standard at the top end of the table is improving and is convinced the trend is continuing, despite Sam Allardyce's claim that more top players are being put off Premier League life by the 50pc top rate of tax.
"It is a league with a lot of dangers," he said. "The competition is being raised all the time.
"Last year, the monopoly of the big four was squashed when Tottenham came into it and they will make progress this year.
"Manchester City have bought again, so you obviously have to put them into the equation and Everton, who had so many injury problems last year, will also come into it.
"There is no doubt in my mind it is going to be a more competitive league every year now."
Not that Ferguson intends to read too much into the result.
Given that Chelsea won last season's encounter on penalties and then went on to win the title by a single point, it could be viewed as a barometer of what lies ahead.
However, with so many just back from their World Cup exertions, Ferguson knows it is more important to ensure his players all have enough match practice under their belts ahead of the new campaign, which means Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic may have their appearance restricted on Sunday.
"We always take the long view," said Ferguson.
"There is no point pushing players too early, so I don't think we will get the benefit of these players until the third week of the season.
"The World Cup is probably the pinnacle of a lot of players' careers. The intensity and profile of it means it does take a lot out of them and we have to give them a proper rest.
"It does mean early in the season there is a little bit of risk in terms of knowing players are 100pc ready to be involved in these games."
Rooney and Vidic have been promised some involvement, as have Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia, who also made their first pre-season appearances in Dublin on Wednesday after overcoming hamstring and calf problems respectively.
Patrice Evra will not feature, though, given he has only just returned to training, while Michael Carrick has been ruled out for a fortnight with an ankle injury sustained against the Airtricity League XI.
However, amongst the long-term absentees there is some good news about Brazilian midfielder Anderson, who is nearing the end of his recovery from a cruciate ligament operation and showing no ill effects following a car crash earlier this week.
"The car thing wasn't as bad as was made out," said Ferguson.
"There is no problem there. The important thing is that he has made a good recovery from his injury and he will start training again in two weeks."