SIR Alex Ferguson feels Manchester United are ready to meet the challenge of winning a history-making fourth consecutive league title.
While United have twice won three on the trot, following the achievements of Liverpool and, before the Second World War, Huddersfield and Arsenal, no side has ever managed a fourth.
Yet that is the target Ferguson’s team will have in their sights when they open their campaign against Birmingham at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The loss of Cristiano Ronaldo is a major blow and Ferguson is not underestimating the huge hole that has been left by the Portugal superstar’s exit for Real Madrid, even if United have pocketed a world record £80million in return.
However, United have brought in Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia, both of whom have impressed in pre-season, while failure in last May’s Champions League final means they will not be distracted by a mid-season trip to Abu Dhabi to defend their Club World Cup trophy.
“We would like to do it,” said Ferguson.
“It would be a great achievement obviously, because we all know what a difficult league it is.
“Under the circumstances, it was a great achievement to win it last year. But we don’t have to go for the Club World Cup this time and we don’t have to play catch-up in terms of games.”
Ferguson could have some good news on the injury front too as Wes Brown seems set to declare himself available to face Alex McLeish’s newly-promoted Blues after sustaining a thigh injury in Munich during last month’s Audi Cup.
Ben Foster may also be in contention, despite pulling out of England’s friendly in Holland with a knee injury, although Tomasz Kuszczak’s excellent recent form makes that less of a worry for the United boss.
Ferguson has already been given a pleasant surprise with Nani getting through a 17-minute substitute appearance for Portugal against Liechtenstein on Wednesday night casting aside fears he dislocated his shoulder at Wembley on Sunday.
It will also be interesting to see whether Rooney will continue his partnership with Dimitar Berbatov this weekend given Owen is desperate for some involvement.
“Our approach to him has been to say ’enjoy being here, enjoy the training’ and he has not missed a single session yet,” said Ferguson.
“He has operated really well in all the games so far. He has shown some really clever stuff and I am very pleased with him.”