Nani ready to fight

Nani has claimed he will be inspired by the intense battle for first-team spots at Manchester United this season. The arrival of Ashley Young from Aston Villa has provided immediate competition for the winger, who with Antonio Valencia sidelined for most of last term, was the only orthodox wide-man at Sir Alex Ferguson's disposal.

Danny Welbeck has operated on the flanks and is now available after a successful loan spell at Sunderland, whilst Mame Biram Diouf was picked there for the first half of yesterday's 3-1 win over Chicago Fire.

However, Nani, who scored the visitors' final goal at Soldier Field, is adamant he does not intend to take a backward step. "The competition is good," he said. "It inspires you. If you have competition, you will train harder and push yourself in every game. At Manchester United, you have to be ready every time you go on the field."

The 24-year-old contributed nine goals and 18 assists - the highest in the league - to United's record 19th championship triumph. Yet it still was not enough to earn him a starting spot for the UEFA Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in May. It must have come as a bitter blow to a player who started the campaign so well, but tailed off just as Valencia was recovering from the broken ankle he sustained in September.

The competition is good, it inspires you.
Nani on the challenge for places at Manchester United

In the aftermath of that loss, and with Ferguson looking at how best to strengthen a team that was so badly outplayed at Wembley, there were plenty happy to write off Nani's Red Devils career completely. But he returned for the current five-match tour of the United States, and appears in the right frame of mind to provide an even greater contribution this time around.

"Of course I can get better," he said. "That is what I am trying to do. It is not easy but it is what I look to achieve every year. If I can get more goals and more assists, that will be good for the team and help us in all the competitions we are going for."

Nani believes improvement will be required too. For, whilst United proved good enough to finish top of the pile last season, with Manchester City trying to get stronger and Liverpool expected to challenge along with Arsenal and last year's runners-up Chelsea, Nani is anticipating an even fiercer battle for supremacy.

"In every season it is important to start well," he said. "But it is even more the case now because this season will be much harder than the last couple. All the teams are getting stronger and trying to be much better. We have to match that."

Although yesterday's first-half showing was the least convincing of United's performances so far, Sir Alex Ferguson was reasonably satisfied. Goalkeeper David de Gea and former Blackburn defender Phil Jones made decent debuts.

Sir Alex Ferguson retracted an initial thought that De Gea was responsible for Chicago Fire's early opener and by the time he has bulked up, which United's medical staff insist will happen over time, he should be a positive influence.

We thought he would get 20 last season and he did. He might do even better this time.
Sir Alex Ferguson on Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez

The same is already true of Javier Hernandez, who is expected to join United on the next leg of their journey, to New York, where they will face an MLS All-Stars side containing David Beckham and Thierry Henry at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday.

"It was tough for him last season but over time, Javier will mature and get better," said Ferguson. "He is improving technically and now he has had a good season behind him in a tough division. We are setting targets for him. We thought he would get 20 last season and he did. He might do even better this time."

United complete their tour in Washington next Saturday when they square up to Barcelona in a rematch of that one-sided European final. With Lionel Messi missing, it hardly represents an opportunity for revenge.

It will be a guide though, with Nani convinced United have what it takes to get revenge in Munich next year, when the European Cup will be up for grabs again. "We have to be ready for the challenge," he said.  "Barcelona play fantastic football and are the best team in the world at present. But we have the conditions to be better in the future."