Manchester United: Top three Premier League squads
Manchester United opinion: A look at Sir Alex Ferguson's best Premier League teams - and the legacy David Moyes is up against
The official start of the summer transfer window signalled the passing of the mantle of manager of Manchester United Football Club from the retiring legend Sir Alex Ferguson to fellow Scot and ex-Everton manager David Moyes.
While many United fans will be patient with only the second man to be in charge at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, owing to their steadfast belief in the fact that the man Sir Alex personally recommended as his successor will come good in the long run, the burden of proof will sit squarely (and heavily, one might add) on the shoulders of Moyes (who turned down the chance to become a coaching assistant to Sir Alex in the mid-1990s).
If Moyes is to live up to expectations and make his mark on the club, he will have to make this transfer window a productive one.
One can't help but get the feeling that Sir Alex has left in his wake a squad with all the ingredients that Moyes needs to create a team that, over the next decade, can maintain the club's stranglehold on the Premier League title while pushing on in its attempts to improve on its three European titles.
The squad boasts a fantastic mix of youth and experience, defensive solidity and attacking exuberance, and individual quality and work ethic. While the likes of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are approaching the ends of fantastic individual careers (although in Giggs' case, no one can be quite sure when that end will be), United can look to the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, David de Gea, Tom Cleverley and Rafael da Silva to carry forward the club's legacy of domestic success.
In the weeks building up to the official kick-off of the transfer window, there have been plenty of rumours concerning Moyes' transfer targets.
Players like Dutch midfielder Kevin Strootman and Barcelona starlet Thiago Alcantara have been linked very strongly to the club, whereas the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Edinson Cavani and even Old Trafford favourite Cristiano Ronaldo have been named in connection with big-money moves to the red half of Manchester.
While Uruguayan right-back Guillermo Varela and English winger Wilfried Zaha are the only two signings that have been confirmed so far (Zaha being Sir Alex's last ever signing), United look set to have a busy couple of months ahead, as they look to strengthen the squad, and cope with the potential losses of Nani and Anderson who have been linked with moves away from Old Trafford.
Having recognised the undeniable quality of the current United squad, and its potential for growth under Moyes, we take a look back at three of Sir Alex Ferguson's greatest Premier League squads - and seek to provide a better idea of the challenge that Moyes will be faced with as he embarks on a new chapter in his managerial career, and the history of Manchester United.
1. Manchester United | 2007-2008 | Trophies won: Community Shield, Premier League & Champions League
United entered the 2007/08 season having regained their status as champions of England, following three years without a title, their longest barren spell in the Premier League.
You would've thought that the performances of Ronaldo and Rooney in the previous season would have convinced Sir Alex that he already had the makings of a great squad at his disposal, but he showed the world his undying ambition for trophies and good football by using the summer transfer window (and close to £50m to bring in some of the most talented young players in world football: Carlos Tevez (on loan), Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson.
A slow start to the season (no wins from three games) saw United fall to 17th in the table, but a subsequent run of eight wins (conceding two goals) firmly established them in the top two positions in the league. United were on top of the table for 18 of the 38 rounds of fixtures, which goes to show the level of domination they exerted over the rest of the league.
The offensive quartet of Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez and Nani formed a lethal partnership over the course of the season, scoring 83 goals between them. Cristiano Ronaldo ended the season by winning numerous awards on the individual front, including the FIFA World Player of the Year, Ballon d'Or and PFA Players' Player of the Year awards.
The defensive line-up of Edwin van der Sar, Wes Brown (whose career will be forever remembered for this one stellar season), Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic (at that time the best defensive partnership in the world) and Patrice Evra conceded just 22 league goals all season, a fantastic achievement.
This United team had the perfect combination of individual brilliance -Ronaldo enjoyed the best season of his Old Trafford career - and strength in depth (the club missed first-choice right-back and team captain Gary Neville for the whole season), and different players rose to the fore to carry the team on their shoulders when they were needed (Paul Scholes, for example, scored two goals all season, but one of them happened to be the match-winner in the semi-finals of the Champions League).
Although United didn't enjoy much success in domestic knock-out competitions, they were ruthless in the league and in Europe, and the 2007/08 season served as a milestone season in many ways, with the club securing its 10th Premier League title, and third European crown, with the victory over Chelsea in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow coming 50 years after the Munich air disaster.
2. Manchester United | 1998-1999 | Trophies: FA Cup, Premier League, UEFA Champions League
The 2007/08 season saw some exhilarating offensive performances from the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney, but the 1998-1999 treble-winning campaign will go down as the greatest season in the history of Manchester United Football Club.
United started the season on the back of having lost the league title to Arsenal the previous year, which only served to convince Sir Alex to resort to the transfer window to bolster his squad, and so he did, strengthening in both the defensive (Jaap Stam, £10.75m) and offensive (Dwight Yorke, £12.6m) sectors.
The Premier League season got off to an average start, with six wins, three draws and one loss from the first ten games of the season.It was to get worse before it got better, with the team suffering a horrendous run of form in the league in December (one win in six games) before turning the tables on title rivals Arsenal and going on to win nine of their ten games between January and March.
United faced some of Europe's elite on their way to their second ever European crown, having to beat the likes of Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Internzionale, Juventus and Bayern again on their way to lifting the famed trophy. They lifted the FA Cup after beating Newcastle 2-0, but their victory will always be remembered for the epic semi-final replay against Arsenal at Villa Park.
The historic 1998-1999 season saw United play some truly fantastic team football, fuelled by beautiful, free-flowing attacking football backed by a solid defensive and workmanlike midfield. Andy Cole and new signing Dwight Yorke formed a tremendous, bordering-on-psychic partnership up front, and chalked up 53 goals between them.
Substitute strikers Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham were excellent when called upon, and confirmed their exalted positions in the history of the club by getting the goals that gave United the Champions League trophy in Barcelona. This season perhaps marked the true transformation of Manchester United youth products Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Gary & Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and David Beckham from promising fledglings to world-class internationals.
Beckham was brilliant all season, and laid on plenty of goals for his team-mates, helping himself to 9 along the way. He finished runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year and European Footballer of the Year awards, just reward for his performances.
Stam had a brilliant first year at the club, and legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel had a memorable last. The likes of Ronny Johnsen, Denis Irwin, Jesper Blomqvist, Phil Neville and Nicky Butt played able supporting roles over the season, contributing to the engine that kept the team running.
The squad showed its maturity and ability to handle adversity over the course of the season, qualities that we have come to identify with United. It displayed immense strength in depth, a telling example of which was the final of the Champions League, which United had to play without first-choice midfield pair Paul Scholes and Roy Keane.
The 1998/99 season has left us with several inextinguishable memories, not least Giggs' splendid winner against Arsenal in the FA Cup, Roy Keane's unforgettable performance against Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal and, of course, Ole Gunner Solskjaer's toe-poke into the upper corner of Oliver Kahn's bulging net.
That season saw United cement its place in the history of European football, and will forever remain the season by which the club is identified.
3. Manchester United | 2002-2003 | Trophies won: Premier League
Sir Alex Ferguson responded to losing the Premier League title to Arsenal for the second time by signing a new contract with United, and spending a record fee of 29 million pounds on English defender Rio Ferdinand in an attempt to improve on the "disappointing" third-place finish in the previous season.
The league season started - as it so often has for Manchester United - in unconvincing fashion, as the club found itself in 10th position after 6 games, and only in fifth after 14 games.
However, the players were able to bounce back from humiliating defeats against arch-rivals Manchester City and Leeds United, winning crucial games against Newcastle (5-3), Liverpool (2-1) and Arsenal (2-0), and - true to United's tradition of leaving the best for last - went on to remain unbeaten in the 18 games before the end of the season.
On the European front, United were humbled by a star-studded Real Madrid side in the quarter-finals, despite winning the second leg - a marvellous game at Old Trafford - by four goals to Ronaldo's three.
The squad that season was one to savour, as United had in their ranks a World Cup-winning goal-keeper and defender, a British record-signing in defence, captain of the English national team (and the best dead-ball specialist and crosser in the world, mind you!) in midfield, and two of the best penalty-box strikers of all time in attack.
The squad was built around the tremendous goal-scoring ability of Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy, who helped himself to 44 goals in 52 games that season, the two excellent British wingers - Giggs and Beckham - and the quality of Seba Veron (I have to agree with Sir Alex when he said that Veron wasn't a bad player at all, although a tad over-priced), Paul Scholes (who got 20 goals that season, in case you'd forgotten!), Phil Neville and Nicky Butt in midfield.
Solskjaer and Diego Forlan were crucial for the club as well, with Forlan finally opening his account for the club after 26 games without success.
The style of football implemented that season was truly predatory: so many of the chances United created were down to solid play in the centre of the pitch, winning the ball early and feeding it to the flanks, from where the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs would supply van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer with perfect crosses that would be smashed into the back of the net.
As a safety net, United even had Paul Scholes play as a box-to-box midfielder, a role he had performed in capably in the past, and the Ginger Assassion dutifully mopped up any and all loose balls that were to fall his way. It was ruthlessly efficient, with every move created by the likes of Veron and Beckham resulting in champagne football. United were found wanting at the back at times, but more than made up for it by playing fantastic, free-flowing football that was a treat to watch.
So there you have it: the three best Premier League squads that Sir Alex Ferguson has assembled at Manchester United, and an indicator of the lofty standards of performance that have come to be expected of players in Manchester United jerseys.
Will we see one of David Moyes' squads achieve such levels of individual and collective glory in the years to come? We'll have to wait and see.
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