The issue of goal flow predates this season but the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, who struck 18 times in the Premier League last term, has inevitably intensified scrutiny of where the champions will find their goals. In achieving a +44 goal difference last season, the champions were heavily reliant on an exceptional defence.
Related ArticlesWigan v Man United previewWhelan's good fortuneFerguson rules out transfersCattermole joins SunderlandWigan take Sinclair on loanSport on televisionUnited netted 68 goals from 38 games, an average of 1.78, well below their League average of 1.95 (1,289 goals from 660 games). United conceded a miserly 24 goals at an average of 0.63 per game, notably better than their overall League average of 0.85 (563 goals conceded in 660 League games).
"The ratio of goals last season was our poorest for 15 years in terms of goal difference,'' said Ferguson, speaking before training at Carrington on Friday. "That was an issue last year, and it will be an issue this year unless we step up to the mark, which I am confident we will do.''
Ronaldo undoubtedly made a difference in tight games, particularly against opponents with massed defences, but Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra formed a resilient backline. United need someone who can turn the screw on opponents, someone to emulate Ronaldo's rapier-like savaging of defences, but also a continuation of a Scrooge-like rearguard. Vidic's return against Wigan today is well-timed, although the bulletin on Ferdinand's lengthening absence was disappointing.
For all the issues at United, particularly in the attacking third, a concern highlighted during Wednesday's loss at Turf Moor, Ferguson refuses to spend. "I will not be buying anyone,'' insisted United's manager. "The issue now, and always is at this club, is when you have a defeat what do you do about it?
"Maybe it was always going to be Burnley's night: 35 years out of the league, their fans were fantastic, it was the biggest night of their life.
"Their players ran their socks off. Nobody is going to say Robbie Blake is a world-class player but it was a world-class finish. But with the opportunities we had we really should have won comfortably. Our decision-making in the last third of the field wasn't our best.''
That should worry Ferguson. In Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen, United's manager can call on three of the best decision-makers around, yet only Rooney is delivering and even he seemed to fume with frustration at Turf Moor. His lunge at Tyrone Mears was labelled "a nothing challenge'' by Ferguson but it could have seen the striker sent off.
Rooney's fuse tends to burn when the game is going away from United or he feels aggrieved at an injustice. Maybe he feels the huge responsibility on him in the post-Ronaldo world. Rooney certainly needs his fellow strikers to start contributing.
Many supporters are concerned by Berbatov's approach. Not Ferguson. "He has a languid style,'' said Ferguson. "Maybe that's the thing against him, his style of play, rather than his actual effect on the game. I'm particularly happy with that. He is a very, very good player. Dimitar would like to score a goal; he is no different from Michael or Wayne.
"Michael could do with a goal. He had two chances on Wednesday and should have scored both of them. He knows that. His movement and positional play in the last third is very, very good. We are just waiting on that goal that will set him off. I am sure about that. Forget the England thing at the moment. If he does well with us, then England will be there for him.''
United have issues in all departments. Midfield lacks authority, a reality seen in Michael Carrick's weak penalty at Burnley. United have other takers, such as Rooney, Anderson and Ryan Giggs, but Ferguson admitted he had not decided who will take the next penalty. When Ronaldo was around, there was no question.
The champions' threat from midfield will increase when Antonio Valencia begins running at opponents with the brio he did when United last visited Wigan. Valencia gave Ferguson's defence a torrid time, particularly early on. Valencia starts against his old team today with Ferguson hoping he turns Carrington form into match-day potency.
"We see the potential particularly in the training sessions,'' said Ferguson. "There's good stuff to work with there: he's quick, balanced, tough, a good crosser. A lot of players over the years come to the club and take to it like a duck to water. Some need time. He'll be all right.''