BURNLEY, August 18 – Manchester United have traditionally made a habit of having to wrestle control of a title race in the second half of the campaign.
Last season they had to wait until returning from the Club World Cup to leap-frog Liverpool on their way to winning a third straight title.
But, having beaten Birmingham 1-0 in their opening match of the season at Old Trafford, defender John O’Shea insists United are planning to lead from the front this season.
They face another newly-promoted team next with a short trip to Turf Moor to face Burnley, who have returned to the top flight after a 33-year absence.
And O’Shea maintains that United are looking to make a clear statement of their intentions in the opening week of the season, even though they are struggling with injuries.
The Republic of Ireland international was pleased United got off to a winning start and is determined to continue against Owen Coyle’s Clarets.
He said: "You don’t want to be playing catch-up, even after only one game.
"Other teams are looking stronger now so it’s important we stamp our authority early on in the season.
"We’ve opened the last two league seasons with draws so we’re happy to have picked up three points against Birmingham. Now we move on with a tough game at Burnley."
United are likely to be stretched to the limit defensively once again Wednesday at Turf Moor, with Jonny Evans expected to miss out with an ankle injury.
With Nemanja Vidic not expected to return until the trip to Wigan on Saturday and Rio Ferdinand out for a fortnight, Wes Brown is likely to step in.
But while struggling at the back, O’Shea believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic over United’s attack, with Wayne Rooney having scored in his last two matches.
O’Shea is also sure that new signing Michael Owen will have a similar impact this season: "I’m sure Michael will get off the mark soon and, like Wayne, get his goals in runs.
"As for Wayne, I think pre-season was so important, for him to get that sharpness he needs. Once he’s sharp, he’s so hard to stop. I think his goal today will give him confidence and that can only benefit us."
One player benefiting from United’s injury problems is England goalkeeper Ben Foster, who is determined to make the most of Edwin van der Sar’s hand injury.
The veteran Dutchman is set for at least another six weeks on the sidelines and Foster plans to show a level of consistency that makes it impossible for Ferguson to drop him.
He said: "I’ve got to give it all I’ve got at the moment. Unfortunately Edwin’s had a bad injury.
"But I’ve just got to do what I can in the period when he’s out and when he’s fit again I’ll hopefully have done enough to stay where I am.
"Wednesday’s match will be a tough one. Burnley are going to be really up for it and their fans will give them an extra 20 per cent (boost).
"We’ve got to go there, be professional, do what we did against Birmingham and hopefully keep another clean sheet."
The Clarets are likely to hand a debut to David Edgar, who missed Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Stoke through suspension, but captain Steven Caldwell will miss out with a groin injury.
Despite slipping to the opening day defeat, defender Clark Carlisle remains confident about Burnley’s prospects this season.
He said: "It’s going to be a steep learning curve this season. We know we have the ability to cause problems going forward.
"We just need to lock up at the back and that’s what we’ll focus on."