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By ESPN Staff

United stars buoyant after landing another title

Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville have been around long enough to know - and neither man is in any doubt - this is the strongest squad Manchester United have ever had.

Their latest Premier League triumph is Giggs' 11th and number nine for Neville.

During that time they have played with plenty of big-name players and won enough additional silverware to leave even the strongest trophy cabinet begging for mercy.

However, at no time have they been accompanied by such a vast number of experienced and talented team-mates.

Sir Alex Ferguson does not just have two players for every position, in some cases it is three.

In others, like Neville's right-back berth for instance, the number is even greater, given John O'Shea is likely to claim the spot for the Champions League final against Barcelona and the Irishman was not even third choice for that role when the season began.

"Without a doubt this squad is the strongest we have ever had,'' said Neville. "The strength in depth is incredible. You cannot begin to compare this squad with the rest. You cannot name a side now.

"You could have one lot of 11 players one week and an entirely different team for the next game.''

Giggs goes even further. Whatever team Ferguson picks, although maybe not including the one likely to tackle Hull at the KC Stadium next Sunday, the veteran Welshman is convinced it is better than any that have previously represented United during their current manager's illustrious reign.

"Squad wise, this is the strongest I have been part of,'' said Giggs. "Team wise, it is the best partly because of what we have already achieved but also what we could do in the future as well.

"We have been there and done it. We have won leagues and we have won a Champions League. Hopefully we can win another.''

The meeting with Barcelona at the Stadio Olimpico will now dominate Ferguson's thinking, which is why United's team to face Hull may resemble the one that turned out for the FA Cup semi-final defeat by Everton.

While United will want to do the right thing by Newcastle and Sunderland, their manager's priority clearly has to be getting his best team onto the pitch in Rome, which presumably does not involve them putting their fitness at risk against fully-revved up opponents battling for survival on their own soil.

"It is a 50-50 game,'' said Neville. "We are playing Barcelona in a Champions League final. We can't say we are just going to win.

"Anything can happen in those games, although we hope this is not the last trophy we win this season because the European Cup would cap off a brilliant year.''

When the analysis of United's season is completed during the early summer months, yesterday's goalless draw with Arsenal will not figure very prominently - other than what it actually meant.

Far more important was the victory at Stoke on Boxing Day, only four days after United returned from their successful quest to become world champions in Japan.

Last month's home win over Aston Villa and the five-goal second half against Tottenham, at a time when any further slips would have fuelled Liverpool's belief they were going to end a drought dating back to 1990, were equally crucial.

Those backs-to-the-wall successes only add further credence to a belief this was a championship that owed as much to United's sheer will and refusal to give in than any free-flowing football.

Twenty-two clean sheets in a 37-match programme that has yielded only five wins by a margin of three goals or more seems to bear that feeling out.

"Every title is special,'' said Neville. "To win it three years on the trot is a fantastic achievement.

"This season has been about digging in and fighting for results rather than producing brilliant football all the time. We have had a lot of injuries and had to change the team quite regularly.

"This title is as good as any because we have used so many players.''


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