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Phelan ready for the fight

Manchester United assistant manager Mike Phelan has admitted the Red Devils face an ever greater challenge to their Premier League authority next season.

United secured a record 19th title last term, and their fourth in five years. As they only missed out on the other to Chelsea by a single point, Sir Alex Ferguson's career is clearly drawing to a close on a high, but Phelan is not becoming complacent.

"Manchester United always have to play well," he said. "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."

United have now returned to Manchester at the end of a successful three-week tour of the United States, which ended with victory over Barcelona in Washington on Saturday and confirmation of a 100% record from their five games.

The good news was that Javier Hernandez was with them as they landed, cleared to travel despite suffering concussion in New Jersey last week that will rule him out for up to four weeks.

Ferguson is also confident Rafael will be fully fit for the opening weeks of the new season despite suffering a knock that forced him off early in the contest, which was won thanks to goals from Nani and Michael Owen.

There are a couple of midweek obligations to fulfil, and also Paul Scholes' testimonial against the New York Cosmos at Old Trafford on Friday. But all eyes are now on Wembley at the weekend for the Community Shield clash with Manchester City, even if Phelan insists the latest Manchester derby will still be viewed as part of United's pre-season programme.

"It is a tasty one of course because it is the two Manchester clubs coming up against each other," he said. "But we may try out a few new things. We have a week to prepare.

"The FA Cup semi-final (defeat to City) 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."