TBB: To be honest, I'd be quite disappointed if Manchester United did not repeat as champions. With Paul Scholes playing only a bit part in last season's campaign, the one (very) significant loss is Edwin van der Sar. By bringing in Ashley Young and Phil Jones during the summer transfer window, and by bringing back Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck from loan, United has both the experience and quality young depth to repeat as champions during the 38 match grind. I expect Nemanja Vidic to lift the trophy once again come May.
Having said that, the dynamic of the league has changed over the past few seasons as there appears to be six very good teams in England. Thus, I think the winning point total will be relatively low again and that alone will draw more sides into the title race. City certainly have the talent, and will add to that (while weakening Arsenal) if Samir Nasri goes north. I am just curious whether or not Roberto Mancini will be aggressive enough with his tactics - he played for 1 point way too often last season - much too often to win a league title. I'll reserve judgment on Chelsea until the transfer window closes. But if current rosters hold, I'd say City is the bigger threat to us.
CFC: With Javier Hernandez out until at least the end of the month, is there any chance that Alex Ferguson moves Wayne Rooney out of his second striker/trequarista role and uses him as a No. 9 in his absence?
TBB: In the season opener versus West Brom, and in the last two preseason friendlies versus Barcelona and City, Rooney played the most advance of the two forwards. In those matches, it was actually Welbeck playing deeper. Rooney still came deep for the ball though in a false nine role, but he didn't occupy as deep of space as he did last season for the run-in -- when his role strongly resembled a number ten with Chicharito stretching the defense by playing off the last defender's shoulder. When Chicharito returns, and if he earns his spot as first-choice again, expect to see Rooney play in a similar role as late last season. For now, and when manager Sir Alex Ferguson uses a 4-3-3/4-5-1 sort of shape, expect to see Rooney play a bit higher in a false nine role.
CFC: Of the three headed wing monster that is Nani, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, who do you rate the highest and why? Will Ferguson rotate them frequently or will there be an odd man out this season?
TBB: I think versus inferior competition, Nani and Ashley Young will play quite often. In the bigger matches, both domestically and in Europe, I think that Park Ji-sung and Antonio Valencia will often get the nod. During last season's successful run-in, it was Park and Valencia that were first-choice for nearly every big match and each was arguably in the form of their lives. They both provide tremendous tactical awareness and each is capable of erasing attacking full-backs out of matches. Park in particular, seems to be Ferguson's dog of war for nearly every big match and he has a knack for scoring in them. I quite honestly love all four players and I've admired Young while he was at Villa. All four provide different qualities and with our traditional dependency on wingers in the attack for creativity, we're tremendously fortunate to have them. My guess is that Young and Nani start on Monday versus Spurs.
CFC: With your full starting back four out, who will play out of position at fullback this weekend?
TBB: If Evra is available, which indications now say that he is, I expect him at left-back and Fabio at right-back. The choice for the two center-back spots would then be Chris Smalling, Jonny Evans, and Phil Jones. Smalling is an automatic choice and I'd rather have Jones to partner him, but Evans came first before Jones when Vidic went down last weekend. If Evra can't play, expect to see Fabio at left-back and Smalling at right-back.
CFC: Are you concerned that your team, as is, can't keep a clean sheet? Do the injuries make Spurs slight favorites, even at Old Trafford? The back four, Darren Fletcher and Javier Hernandez are undoubtedly six of your best eleven players.
TBB: If the match was at White Hart Lane, I'd say the odds would be close to even money. Because of the tremendous depth that United have, I'm actually not too concerned at the current moment because we only have one match a week. With the match being at Old Trafford and if Evra is able to play, I'm quite confident with our back four. I have much more concerns about David de Gea for the current moment. An in-form Chicharito is certainly dangerous but we feel fortunate enough to have Dimitar Berbatov, Welbeck, and Michael Owen as cover. Therefore, I would still say we're a deserved favorite at home. If Evra is out and de Gea once again fails to get command in the box, then I will be genuinely worried.
CFC: What is your take on all of the remaining transfer rumors? Will Manchester United be bringing in anyone else before the window closes?
TBB: Ferguson has said that no new transfers are coming in but he is a master at being coy. The hold up on Wesley Sneijder appears to be over wages and possibly the transfer fee. I'm certainly in the minority on Sneijder, but I would rather not see him come to Old Trafford. I don't think he's a good system fit as he likes to occupy the same space as Rooney. In addition, there are doubts that he can play in a two-man central midfield. For me, that is too many concerns for a player that will require a lot of resources to obtain. I think a better system fit would be a Luka Modric type -- one that dictates tempo with controlled passing from a deeper position on the pitch.
CFC: Will any of the homegrown youngsters get chances to play this year? Welbeck, Cleverley, etc.?
TBB: Both Welbeck and Cleverley started the opener and the latter in particular was very impressive. Ferguson has always stated that the most deserving players will play, regardless of age. The average age of United's starting lineup versus West Brom was just 24 years old. With the injuries to Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, and Rafael, the likes of Smalling, Jones, and Evans will surely play quite a bit in the near future. Youth starlets such as Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison may break in the first team this season as well during domestic cup competition.
CFC: Finally, I'd like a prediction for your finish in all four competitions and a score prediction for Monday's match.
TBB: Monday's match: United 2-1. Premier League: champions. Champions League: semi-final exit to either Barca or Real Madrid. FA & Carling Cup: early exit in one and lifting the cup in the other.