London: Manchester United, left clutching at straws in this year`s Premier League title race, must inject new blood into their ageing squad during the close season to re-establish their grip on England`s most cherished trophy.
United go into the last game of the campaign at home to Stoke City on Sunday hoping for, rather than expecting, a final twist to a compelling battle for top spot with Chelsea, an uncomfortable position for a club not used to failure.
Alex Ferguson`s squad, minus the departed Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, have shown customary zeal in their pursuit of a record 19th league title.
But unless Wigan Athletic pull off a huge upset by winning at Chelsea on Sunday, United must accept second prize and accept they are an inferior model this time round.
Before a ball was kicked this season the decision to sell Ronaldo to Real Madrid and allow Tevez to join Manchester City and only bring in Wigan winger Antonio Valencia and fading force Michael Owen looked risky, and so it proved.
Were it not for Rooney`s incredible goalscoring efforts United would have struggled to mount any sort of title challenge even during a season when Chelsea have often stuttered, Arsenal flattered to deceive and Liverpool were nowhere.
Despite an encouraging first term at Old Trafford for Valencia and the emergence of Nani as a genuine match-winner, United have been far too reliant on the tireless Rooney who has scored 34 goals this season in all competitions.
Almost inevitably, Owen`s injury problems returned and Bulgaria striker Dimitar Berbatov has failed to take his share of the strain, another lacklustre display in the weekend win at Sunderland ending when he was substituted in the second half.