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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 21:21 GMT 22:21 UK
Ferguson plots next move
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Man Utd boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho
Ferguson knows Mourinho will be plotting to win back the title
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had hardly stopped popping the champagne corks on his ninth title triumph when he was indentifying next season's most dangerous enemy.

And it was no surprise that the enemy in question comes in the shape of dethroned and wounded former champions Chelsea.

Armed with Roman Abramovich's limitless transfer fund and still searching in vain for a Champions League triumph, Jose Mourinho has no intention of getting used to second place in the Premiership.

But Ferguson has signalled United are ready for a fight - with noises coming out of Old Trafford suggesting he will be handed a 50m transfer fighting fund by the Glazers.

606: DEBATE

So what areas will Ferguson need to concentrate on to keep Chelsea off the scent of another title?

GOALKEEPERS

Ferguson is well blessed in this area, with the experienced Edwin van der Sar - who endured an uncertain end to the season - braced for fierce competition from new England cap Ben Foster.

Foster was outstanding, even in Watford's relegation, and with an England place potentially up for grabs, will have no intention of sitting on the sidelines.

Tomasz Kuszczak is also on hand, although he may be strictly third choice.

DEFENDERS

United's defensive record was outstanding, especially when a preferred back four of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra was in full working order.

But injuries took a toll, and with Gabriel Heinze looking a shadow of the player he was before a serious knee injury, defence is an area Ferguson may feel requires attention.

Southampton left-back Gareth Bale is a prime target, but is very much one for the future.

Southampton defender Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale turned down Spurs and may now join Man Utd

So what about the right-back berth, where Gary Neville is increasingly troubled by injury, and where he appears to have no natural deputy, despite the best efforts of Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea?

Neville is the consummate professional and a huge influence who will play his full part next season, but Ferguson must look at finding an eventual successor.

Ferguson is unlikely to see central defence as a priority area for strengthening, with John O'Shea, Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre as cover for Ferdinand and Vidic.

But Bale and a new right-back could arrive.

MIDFIELD

No prizes for guessing who's coming here.

Bayern Munich midfield man Owen Hargreaves is a nailed-on arrival to play the vital role of midfield anchor man.

If United have a failing, it is that their all-out commitment to attack - a trademark of Ferguson's approach to management - can leave them vulnerable at the back against teams of the highest quality.

Owen Hargreaves
Owen Hargreaves has made no secet of his desire to join Man Utd

It has made United look vulnerable at the sharp end in Europe, as AC Milan so brutally exposed in the Champions League semi-final.

Few Premiership teams have the quality to probe this flaw, but in Europe it has been a major contributor to United's relative under-achievement in the Champions League since their 1999 win.

Hargreaves will provide the perfect foil for the steady Michael Carrick and for Paul Scholes - keeping the back door closed while the rejuvenated former England man performs his creative brilliance.

Carrick is a reliable rather than sparkling figure, while Scholes provides the cutting edge. Hargreaves would give United that resilient, dogged quality in midfield.

The wide positions are well covered by the ageless Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo, with Darren Fletcher able to cover across the midfield.

Kieran Richardson is also an option - but this will be a make-or-break season for him. He will either finally show consistency or be allowed to move on.

ATTACK

This will arguably be the most fascinating aspect of United's summer recruitment policy.

Ferguson has had 20 goals each from Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, but with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer coming to the end of his career and Louis Saha's lack of appearances seemingly an increasing source of frustration, he will beef up his attack with a high-quality addition.

The question will be - what sort of player does he go for?

Will Ferguson go for the out-and-out goalscorer or a man who provides the best of both worlds?

If he goes for the natural predator, this may bring Tottenham's Jermain Defoe into the equation.

But watch out for a move for Newcastle's Michael Owen should he prove his fitness.

Ferguson has been a massive admirer for many years, and don't bet against the fiercely ambitious Owen being willing to leave Newcastle, despite having just spent 12 months on the treatment table.

Newcastle striker Michael Owen
Could Michael Owen be the shock name on Man Utd's shopping list?

Owen will still want the major trophies that have eluded him - namely the Premiership and the Champions League - and he will not get those at Newcastle.

Ferguson may go for the all-round option by attempting to sign a creator and a scorer in the form of brilliant Spurs striker Dimitar Berbatov - or even finally persuade Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres to try the Premiership.

One thing is for certain, he will buy a forward and Owen might be worth a punt for those fancying a bet.

If he lands the man he wants, Ferguson will have an array of riches, with Rooney the spearhead and Alan Smith on the road back to full fitness.

Ferguson has already handed his list to chief executive David Gill even before the Premiership trophy has been handed over.

He means business - because he knows his great rival Mourinho will be plotting behind the scenes to ensure there is no repeat of the scenes of celebration planned for Old Trafford this Sunday.



SEE ALSO
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Chelsea plan to applaud Man Utd
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Alan Hansen's column
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How the title was won
06 May 07 |  Premiership
How Man Utd ousted Chelsea
06 May 07 |  Premiership
Debate: Man Utd's title win
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Man Utd secure Premiership title
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Arsenal 1-1 Chelsea
06 May 07 |  Premiership
Glazers aided title push - Gill
07 May 07 |  Man Utd
Title triumph spurs on Ferguson
07 May 07 |  Man Utd


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