Long before The Republik of Mancunia was even a passing thought in my head, United Rant was flying the flag for red thought and opinion. Whilst often too negative and cynical (and realistic?) for my liking (remember all the Fergie bashing?) it was a great site, with thought-provoking articles, and there were rows aplenty on the forum.

Then one day, Ed, disappeared and not too long after a ‘Page Cannot Be Found’ error message replaced what had once been a place filled with well-written and passionate United discussion. United Rant was no more.

But United Rant came back in to our lives in April and ahead of the new season Ed has spared a few minutes to chat to me about our hopes for the season ahead, the players we need to buy, and where the fuck he disappeared to.

1. What is the best we can hope for this season?

To match or better last season has to be the aim. But for all the talk of a fourth Premier League title I’m sure that Sir Alex has Europe at the forefront of his mind. Last season’s final loss against Barcelona was pretty cataclysmic. Not because of the result – losing to Barca is no embarrassment per se – but the performance was so toothless it must have hurt Ferguson to his core.

The domestic challenge is going to be strong – if only because City will ensure that the points in ‘top five’ matches will be spread pretty evenly. I’m with Ferguson on his assessment of Liverpool. They’re not going to be any stronger this season, whether Gerrard and Torres are fit or not. Mark my words Alonso is a big loss and Acquilani – good player though he is – has a terrible injury record in Italian football. Can’t help but think that the FSW is getting his excuses in first with that signing. For me, Chelsea are the principal challengers and Essien is their key player. His return to fitness is crucial to Ancelotti’s hopes. But Terry is on the wane – I’m sure that they will concede more this season than last.

2. What is the worst you can imagine happening this season?

Worst case scenario – Rooney gets injured early in the season, and middle ranked teams find an easy way of shutting up shop against a formation that is, to quote The Scottish Player, rigid. I’m not too worried about the big matches against United’s rivals. The big question is, can the team unlock the defences that come to Old Trafford and play with 10 behind the ball? In a few matches without Ronaldo last August and September United were found out. If not, the worst case scenario is third place in the Premier League. In Europe, the team is way better than 2005 even without Ronaldo, so the team will make it out of the groups and then it depends on the draw. Another final is not beyond hope.

For everything that Ronaldo gave United in terms of goals, he also gave the team some incredible flexibility. We’ll see United playing a straight 4-4-2 – with Rooney ‘in the hole’ – but that puts a lot of emphasis on United’s wide players. The squad might have six or seven wingers but are they out of the top drawer? That’s a lot of pressure being placed on Valencia in particular to perform better than he ever has.

3. Who will be our most important player?

Rooney, Rooney and a bit more of Rooney. Of course the defence is key – the new formation means that not leaking goals is vital. So I want to see Rafael progress quickly and Ferdinand/Vidic/Evans all stay fit. But if United are to win the big games, Rooney has to do the business and impose himself on games in the way Ronadlo managed to. Moving to a central striking position ought to help, but only if Rooney is picking up the ball in the final third and not trying to get it off the centre back.

4. What was your opinion of Ronaldo last season?

A friend likened it to having Weapons of Mass Destruction. Ronaldo’s utterly devastating but frankly a bit embarrassing to deploy. The tantrums were getting increasingly unjustifiable and I found it hard to defend his behaviour down the pub! Sure, Ferguson fought Ronaldo’s corner after the winger’s hissy fit in the City match because he had to. But in that moment Ronaldo betrayed his feelings – that he believed he had become bigger than the club itself. As for the man on the pitch, it was Ronaldo light, wasn’t it? He only really got going in March. But Ronaldo light is still better than almost anything out there. United will miss him a lot.

5. Thoughts on who should replace Sir Alex?

Given that I was called for Sir Alex’ head maybe I’m not the best person to comment on that one! At the time – November 2005 – I pitched Paul Le Guen. Pretty embarrassingly wrong – I see that he’s just taken over the Cameroon national team after not being offered a new contact at PSG. In all seriousness, United is going to need a big character to steady the ship when Ferguson goes. Many fans might want an old United favourite to take over for another generation, but that would be a massively risky option. The safe bet for two or three years – much as I would hate it – is Mourinho.

6. What was your initial reaction to the Owen talk? Has that changed since he’s signed?

Oh God no Fergie, what have you done?!! But time is a great healer and in the cold light of day there’s nothing wrong with the signing. I don’t think Owen is going to cause top class defenders huge problems – the edge that his pace once brought has gone. It’s telling that he didn’t score against Boca, Bayern, Valencia or Chelsea. But as part of a squad, against middle ranked and lesser Premier League teams, Owen’s a good bet. He’s going to score plenty of goals in those games.

7. Do City pose a genuine threat to the top four?

Not a chance. They’re still two defenders short, even if Lescott signs. But City has spent the money to make fourth, not win the Champions League. £25 million is about twice what Tevez is really worth but to City his five to ten goals, if they make fourth, is worth double the money they spent on him. In the end Kaka and Terry turning them down is a blessing for the club. City need to run before they can walk. Spend the money right this summer and at Christmas, and City could squeak fourth spot. Then we should see some interesting signings next summer and a shot at the top 3.

8. Which player from another top four club would you most want at United?

It’s a cliché I suppose but Fernando Torres. He’d be magic with a proper forward like Rooney next to him, not the bar brawling walking ego that is Steven Gerrard. Other than Torres, United really missed out on Michael Essien. Imagine him slotted into the United midfield against Barcelona in May… food for thought. He’s frighteningly good.

9. What happened to United Rant? No plans to leave us again any time soon?

No I’m here to stay this time. I had some work/homelife balance issues at the time and had hoped somebody would be able to take it over while I sorted my shit out. It didn’t quite happen. It would help if I could get some new writers on board though. As before, I don’t really want to replicate what’s out on the web already. RoM, Red Rants, AKITG are all really top United blogs. But there’s room for some analysis too – even if my email inbox is still full of people accusing me of being too negative. Watch out for Rant Cast coming soon!