LONDON: The imminent arrival of Robin van Persie gives Manchester United an embarrassment of riches in attack as the deposed Premier League champions begin their quest to wrest the title back from local rivals Manchester City this weekend.
It also gives manager Sir Alex Ferguson a huge selection dilemma ahead of United’s first game, against Everton at Goodison Park Monday.
If van Persie is thrown straight into the fray, the question is who will partner him up front from of Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez? Will Rooney, currently United’s star striker, drop into midfield to take on the playmaker mantle he was sometimes assigned last season? And what happens to record signing Dimitar Berbatov, who was the Premier League’s top scorer in the 2010-11 season?
Whatever happens it’s certain that United’s opposition won’t have a moment’s peace this season.
“He is on his way up from London for a medical later this afternoon,” Ferguson said Thursday of van Persie, who is set to cost United a reported 24 million pounds ($38 million). “We hope all the things will be tied up, although sometimes medicals do take a bit longer. I am sure he will be available for Monday’s game.”
City won their first title in 44 years in dramatic circumstances last season, scoring two injury-time goals in their final game to beat Queens Park Rangers 3-2 and triumph over United on goal difference.
Roberto Mancini’s side start as slight favorites with British bookmakers to win the league this season, too, and begins their campaign Sunday with a home game against promoted Southampton.
Chelsea, who lost to City 3-2 in the Community Shield Sunday, play their first competitive match as European champions when they visit Wigan Sunday with have a fresh look to their forward options following the signings of attacking midfielders Oscar, Eden Hazard and Marko Marin. Fernando Torres starts the season as the No. 1 striker after the departure of Didier Drogba.
Arsenal’s first game is against Sunderland, with manager Arsene Wenger hoping the recruitment of forwards Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud can counter the loss of van Persie.
Tottenham and Liverpool will look to threaten the division’s established powers under the stewardship of new, young managers in Andre Villas-Boas and Brendan Rodgers, respectively. Spurs travel to Newcastle in the standout fixture of the opening round of matches, while Liverpool are away at West Bromwich Albion.
Most eyes, however, will be centered on how quickly van Persie can make his presence felt at United, whose star-studded strike force now rivals City’s as the best in the league.
Paying such a large sum for a 29-year-old who would have been a free agent in 12 months shows just how highly Ferguson rates van Persie.
The prospect of Rooney and van Persie – the league’s top two scorers last season – teaming up is mouthwatering, but it remains to be seen how Ferguson will arrange his forward line.
“They are two fantastic players and it will be great to have both of them,” Ferguson said. “It gives us more strength and more combinations up front. In 1999, I had Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – the four best strikers in Europe. We are going towards that now with Javier Hernandez, Rooney, Robin, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa. It is a fantastic collection of players and hopefully I pick the right combinations.”
Everton are typically slow starters to league seasons but produced a great comeback to earn a 4-4 draw against United at Old Trafford in May, a result that ultimately cost Ferguson’s team the title.
“Man United are a big team in England and last year they almost won the title and would have done but Man City won the last game,” Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini said. “But it is good for us to play a big team in the first game. It is a big test for us.”
The two other promoted teams, Reading and West Ham, start their campaigns with home ties against Stoke and Aston Villa Saturday.
The other games Saturday are Fulham against Norwich, and QPR playing Swansea.