United, City to dominate EPL?
London - Alex Ferguson will lead Manchester United into the English Premier League season facing arguably his biggest threat after 20 years of supremacy in English soccer - crosstown rivals Manchester City.
Man United were two minutes away from having their name engraved on the Premier League trophy for the 13th time last season before City miraculously scored twice in added time against Queens Park Rangers to win the title on goal difference.
"It's a cruel way (to lose the title)," Ferguson said at the time. "We've experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I've been here. Most of them have been great - we've won the title three times on the last day. Today we nearly did it."
While City have only the 2011 FA Cup to add to their first league title in 44 years, Ferguson is sufficiently wary of the spending power of owner Sheikh Mansour to try and significantly strengthen City's squad. City's Abu Dhabi-based owner has invested more than $1bn since taking over the club in 2008.
The 70-year-old Ferguson has signed playmaker Shinji Kagawa, the first Japanese footballer to play for United. Kagawa joined from Borussia Dortmund after scoring 21 goals in 49 Bundesliga appearances.
"He's going to be a really good player," Ferguson said. "His awareness of receiving the ball, his speed in turning and how he attacks defenders is an asset to us."
A bid to sign 19-year-old Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura was trumped by big-spending Paris St Germain's reported €43m offer. United are still interested in signing Netherlands forward Robin van Persie from Arsenal, who scored 30 league goals last season.
Ferguson will be hoping all new arrivals help the team improve in the Champions League following their exit at the group stage last season. Especially with the final this season being held at Wembley Stadium, the site of United's 2011 loss to Barcelona for the title.
United have been boosted by the return of central defender and captain Nemanja Vidic, who missed the majority of last season because of a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury to his knee.
"It was frustrating, but obviously I knew I would be out for six months," Vidic said. "It's hard, but it's part of the football career. Any sportsman has the risk of injuries and hopefully this is the past and better days are coming for me."
Another long-term absentee in line to return is Darren Fletcher. The Scotland captain hasn't played since December 2011 due to a bowel condition called ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract.
Ferguson said in July that Fletcher wouldn't be fit to start the season, but he has been training with the Scottish national squad and would be a boost if he returns earlier than expected. The midfielder has made 300 appearances for United and 58 for Scotland.
It seems inevitable that City and United will once again duel for the Premier League title. City have taken over from Arsene Wenger's Arsenal team that won in 2002 and 2004, the last of whom went unbeaten, and Jose Mourinho's Chelsea champions in 2005-06 as a rival to United's dominance.
Yet the one remaining constant in Ferguson's victorious regime at United is that he has eventually vanquished all threats.
Chelsea are on their sixth manager in Roberto Di Matteo since Mourinho's departure in 2007. Despite winning the Champions League last season, Chelsea slumped to sixth in the league last season, while Arsenal haven't won a trophy since beating United in the 2005 FA Cup final on penalties.
Ferguson will be hoping he has seen off the challenge of another rival by May 2013, one a lot closer to home.