Man Utd need support for Rooney to counter Chelsea rise

LONDON, (Reuters) – Manchester United, left clutching  at straws in this year’s Premier League title race, must inject  new blood into their ageing squad during the close season to  re-establish their grip on England’s most cherished trophy.

United go into the last game of the campaign at home to  Stoke City on Sunday hoping for, rather than expecting, a final  twist to a compelling battle for top spot with Chelsea, an  uncomfortable position for a club not used to failure.

Alex Ferguson’s squad, minus the departed Cristiano Ronaldo  and Carlos Tevez, have shown customary zeal in their pursuit of  a record 19th league title.

But unless Wigan Athletic pull off a huge upset by winning  at Chelsea on Sunday, United must accept second prize and accept  they are an inferior model this time round.

Before a ball was kicked this season the decision to sell  Ronaldo to Real Madrid and allow Tevez to join Manchester City  and only bring in Wigan winger Antonio Valencia and fading force  Michael Owen looked risky, and so it proved.

Were it not for Rooney’s incredible goalscoring efforts  United would have struggled to mount any sort of title challenge  even during a season when Chelsea have often stuttered, Arsenal  flattered to deceive and Liverpool were nowhere.

Despite an encouraging first term at Old Trafford for  Valencia and the emergence of Nani as a genuine match-winner,  United have been far too reliant on the tireless Rooney who has  scored 34 goals this season in all competitions.

Almost inevitably, Owen’s injury problems returned and  Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov has failed to take his share  of the strain, another lacklustre display in the weekend win at  Sunderland ending when he was substituted in the second half.

PRESSING NEED

Ferguson’s pressing need after the dust has settled on the  season will be adding another goalscorer, possibly two, to  lessen the load on Rooney who, worryingly for England coach  Fabio Capello, has run himself ragged this season.

The Scot has already signed 21-year-old Javier Hernandez  from Mexican club Chivas de Guadalajara, pending a UK work  permit, but an established marksman will be required if United  are to keep pace with their rivals at home and in Europe.

Much will depend, however, on what transfer budget Ferguson  is given by American owners the Glazers.

He will also have to come to terms with fact that Paul  Scholes and Ryan Giggs will soon be restricted to cameo roles as  age finally catches up with them although Scotland midfielder  Darren Fletcher’s rise in stature has been a huge positive.

While their class still shines bright at Old Trafford, and  Ferguson showed his faith in them by giving Scholes and Giggs  one-year contract extensions, replacements will be required  sooner rather than later.

Occasionally, like in the Champions League defeat by Bayern  Munich, United’s squad has looked a little frayed.

Competition in Europe and at the top end of the Premier  League will be even more intense next season with big-spending  Manchester City, ambitious Tottenham Hotspur and improving Aston  Villa genuine threats on the domestic scene.

Ferguson has remodelled his United side before, however, and  there is no reason to suggest he will not be able to do it  again. As soon as the final ball is kicked this season the Scot  will be planning next year’s assault.

United have matched Chelsea in a campaign during which they  had to adjust to losing two key players and, but for a 2-1 home  defeat by the Blues in April, would be sure of claiming a fourth  straight title on Sunday to go with their League Cup success.

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