There is also the added bonus of having received a plum tie for the last 16 round of the Champions League after being pitted against French champions Olympique Marseilles. Obviously l’OM are not be taken lightly but this certainly is not the worst tie of the round and it definitely shows the advantages of finishing top of the group.
And so, this excitement of the new year will begin, like always, with the much-discussed transfer window. For months, rumours of possible moves have fuelled pub chat and newspaper columns alike. Inevitably, big-spenders Manchester City have been linked with many players but what about their neighbours?
Sir Alex Ferguson has already distanced himself from the chance of any new arrivals; although several players may be going out on loan (such as precocious talent Kiko Macheda), there will be, according to the United manager, no departures either. But may he need to rethink this policy?
Questions have been raised whether Ferguson’s men are truly set for the crunch half of the season, where they will be expected to fight valiantly for domestic and European glory as well as attempting to wrestle the FA Cup out of Chelsea’s grasp. With this season being one of the most hotly-fought in recent memory, United will need to keep their foot on the gas and continue the meticulous form which has driven them on so far.
At times during this current campaign, the squad has looked thin. A prominent example is the League Cup quarter-final tie against West Ham where United’s “second string” (a starting XI which included six internationals) were humiliated by the East Londoners in a 4-0 thrashing. Although not having been overly troubled by injuries thus far, when reserve players have been called upon, they have not sparkled.
Historically, United have always stayed restrained in the January transfer window; apart from 2006 (when now-established first-teamers Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic arrived), Ferguson has saved his coffers for the summer, believing that too new arrivals would not settle easily (the much-hyped Zoran Tosic for example, who had a short-lived, forgettable time at Old Trafford).
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.