Who do you think will win the league this season?

I think United will win it, but I don’t think there is as much room for error this season as last because I just have a feeling that Chelsea have one big year left in them before Villas-Boas starts to break the current team up.

They will push United all the
way and, if Torres starts scoring which I think he will, then they will be pretty formidable.

United still lack the X-factor
player (Rooney isn’t a Messi or a Ronaldo who can do it on his own) who can win them the Champions League, but you don’t necessarily need one of those to win the Premier League.

As for City, they will be top
three again, but a lot depends on what happens with Tevez.

He obviously doesn’t want to
be there, but he didn’t want to be there last season and still ended up joint top scorer in the Premier League. Not bad for a player who would rather be somewhere else.

If he stays, then Tevez and
Aguero will be very lively. Without Tevez, City will lose their talisman and it will be a big blow.

But even if he stays, I still
think City are a season away from being a real title contender.

Which United players are you
expecting to have a good season?

For United to win anything, Vidic, Rooney and probably Hernandez need to be at their best, or close to it. But that’s stating the obvious.

Beyond those three, Evra needs
to find some form again. He was average at best last season and he is probably lucky that Fabio da Silva is still a year short of being a genuine threat to his
place.

A fully-fit Fletcher is really
important because he has the bite and energy that Carrick has always lacked and, at 30, will never add to his game.

The two players I expect to
stand out and surprise people are Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck.

Jones is a proper player and
somebody Fergie has had watched for ages. Blackburn knew United would come in
for him earlier this summer because Fergie would rave on about him whenever he was at Ewood Park.

He is great in the air, reads
the game really well, and is tough and versatile. He’s not a Roy Keane or a Rio Ferdinand, but he genuinely looks the kind of player who will be a key figure
for the next ten years.

Welbeck really impressed me on
the tour of the States in the summer. He seems to have bulked up and grown up
during his year at Sunderland and has the self-confidence to take his chance this season.

He thinks that Hernandez’s
success last year has given him proof that he can succeed at United, but the only issue with Welbeck is when will he get his chance?

Rooney and Hernandez are the
first choice strikers and Fergie seems to think he can get a lot more from Michael Owen this year.

Berbatov will get his games
against the also-rans and go missing when it really matters (sorry Scott, you know how it is!) so Welbeck could be the guy that ends Berbatov’s career at United if Fergie decides to give him a chance.

Is it true you were the person
who made the suggestion to Sir Alex Ferguson to make Edwin Van der Sar captain
in his last game?

If you believe that, you’ll
believe anything! It was just an urban myth perpetuated by the evil world of Twitter!

I just asked Fergie whether he
was thinking of giving VDS the armband in his final game and he claimed he hadn’t thought of it, but thanks for the advice all the same.

Basically, Fergie has always
had a sentimental side to him and I knew that Scholesy didn’t want to go near the armband for the Blackpool game, so it was
an easy line to go for.

But Fergie’s reaction was probably more of a condescending pat on the head for suggesting it than me actually having any input whatsoever into the decision.

Are you confident that David
De Gea is capable of being Van der Sar’s long term replacement?

Not particularly, although I
am basing that opinion on nothing more than a couple of pre-season games and the sight of this pretty skin kid with a teenage beard walking through mixed zones in the States.

Fergie has always talked about
the experience of top keepers, so I’m still surprised that he has gone for a 20-year-old with just a couple of years behind him.

Manuel Neuer looked the best
option long before his performance for Schalke in the Champions League semi,
but United always felt that Bayern Munich had him locked down right from the outset.

Funnily enough, he’s had a bad
start at Bayern with the fans giving him all sorts of stick, so if De Gea doesn’t work out, Neuer might be looking for an escape route next May.

But De Gea obviously has
something. His mental strength is supposed to be really impressive, but he’ll need all of that when he puts his slender frame against Chris Samba when
Blackburn are whipping corners in at Ewood Park this season!

On the flip side, Lindegaard
looks solid and impressive. He also doesn’t lack confidence, so if De Gea has a wobble, Lindegaard will provide better cover than Kuszczak ever did for Van der
Sar.

What do you think of Ferguson banning certain journos from press conferences and not allowing player interviews after games?

It’s a strange one with the
bans because, while it’s not exactly good for business to be banned from United press conferences, the lads that have been barred don’t actually miss out on anything by not being there on a Friday morning.

A few years ago, Fergie used
to do separate briefings for the dailies, so being cut out of that would be an issue and a problem if it became long-term, but the current set-up has pretty
much taken the sting out of any ban.

Not being there to ask a
question is a downside, but there are five or six other national journos who are geared up to ask the same questions anyway.

Personally, I don’t see what
the bans achieve. In a way, they hit Fergie as much as anyone else because it denies him the opportunity to apply the hairdryer as he used to do in the old press room.

I’ll never forget the day he
went mad at the coverage of Rooney’s shoving spat with Tal Ben Haim and sent about six tape recorders crashing into the wall. He can’t really do that now
with TV cameras there to cover every thing he says and does.

Player interviews after games?
That’s not as bad as it painted to be, although it can always be better. Access isn’t great at Old Trafford post-match.

But away from home, players
stopped and spoke last season. Not every time, but more often than not.

Do you think United are fairly
represented in the press?

They are the biggest club in
the country, they have richest history, the most high-profile manager and England’s best
player also being United’s best player, so the coverage they get is the coverage they deserve. That is the price on the ticket.

Fans from all clubs will always moan about bias, unfair criticism, lack of praise when things go well, but that’s a typical fans’ viewpoint and it’s the same at every club.

In the build-up to the Champions League final, United had a week-long free advert spreading to about eight pages a day in every national newspaper.

I really don’t get the debate
about fair representation or lack of. It’s just football, it’s showbusiness and that’s how it is.
Do you think we’ll sign Sneijder?

So far this summer, it has gone from yes, no, maybe, to probably not, so he’ll probably sign at 11:59 on Aug 31.

When we landed in Seattle on the US tour, those of us who had been with United in Boston were all told in no uncertain terms by
somebody close to the top at the club that they were not in for Sneijder.

Then about two hours later,
Fergie was much less convincing.

Talks have taken place, all
parties want to do the deal, but the problem is that each party values that deal differently.

At the moment, the gap between
United and Sneijder is way too big, but I wouldn’t rule out another twist before the window shuts.

The player will have to accept
a hit financially, though, for that to happen.

Do you think we’ll sell Berbatov?

If somebody offers around
£8-10m, then I’m pretty sure that United would happily do a deal, but there don’t seem to be any takers out there.

Berbatov’s contract is up next
summer and although United can extend it by 12 months whenever they wish, I don’t sense an appetite to do that.

Berbatov is a great player,
but he just isn’t suited to this United team. Too slow for a start.

Which youngsters at United are
you most impressed with?

Welbeck is the one that looks
the likeliest to come good this season, with Tom Cleverley also pushing for a chance.

I know everyone raves about
Ravel Morrison and, having seen some of his goals and performances, I can see why.

But I was told that he was
never under consideration for the US tour, despite all the possible visa issues, because he is nowhere near the first-team.

The only one that was considered was Paul Pogba and he looks a really good prospect. He still looks a bit coltish to break through this season, but he at least doesn’t have anything
to worry about off the field.

Ravel might look a world-beater amongst 18-year-olds, but seasoned professionals would know how to deal with him within sixty seconds if he was thrown into the team now.

Fergie thinks he has star quality and real potential, but don’t expect to see him anywhere beyond the Carling Cup team this season. He might not even make that.

There is a young kid called
Tom Thorpe, a defender, who looks like he could make the breakthrough in a couple of years.

He’s only 18, but is an England U-19 international and he reminded me of Alan Hansen when I saw him.

Probably not a great comparison for younger fans, but if he turns out like him, then United will
have a player.

Which team are you expecting to push United the hardest this season?

Chelsea. But for that horrendous run in the middle of last season, they would have won the league and they have spent £70m on Torres and David Luiz this year, so are definitely a threat.

Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba provide a great spine and they know how to win and I would take those qualities over the obvious strengths that City possess.

If United are in a two-way fight with anybody at the end of the season, they would rather it be City than Chelsea because nobody can question Chelsea’s ability to hold their nerve in the
run-in.

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Follow Mark on Twitter




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