Chelsea still the danger for Fergie
Sir Alex Ferguson still expects Chelsea to emerge as the most
serious threat to Manchester United’s hopes of a record
In the wake of Sunday’s win at Hull, Wayne Rooney labelled as
“crazy” a season in which United suffered five defeats before
Christmas, Chelsea go seven games without a win, Liverpool slump to
eighth and Arsenal remain in the title race despite twice being
written off after falling away following damaging defeats.
With Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City all in the
hunt and even Birmingham flying high on the back of an 11-game
unbeaten run, nothing can be taken for granted.
Yet, eventually, as everyone predicted last summer, Ferguson
sees United and Chelsea scrapping it out for the biggest honour.
“At the start of the season I saw Chelsea as our biggest
danger and I have not changed my mind,” said Ferguson.
“Nobody has had a consistent run really and although it is
not looking like it at the moment, history tells you that two teams
break away at the end.
“Chelsea are the big danger because they too have great
Given he has spent the last six weeks operating with hardly
any defenders, Ferguson admitted he would gladly accept having a
two-point deficit to make up heading into 2010, which would be the
case if United manage to record an 11th straight win against Wigan
on Wednesday night night.
As Gary Neville returns from a groin injury, Ferguson could
name an experienced back four, even if Edwin van der Sar has been
placed on extended compassionate leave after his wife Annemarie
suffered a brain haemorrhage at home in Holland on December 23.
Amazingly, not only are United still in the thick of the
title picture, they are only one point worse off than last season,
and have actually scored more goals, which is staggering given the
£80million summer departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
“People looked at us losing Ronaldo and saw that as being
crucial,” said Ferguson.
“They felt we wouldn’t be nearly as good without him.
“Cristiano was an unbelievable player. But we have adjusted
to it. There is only one point difference.”
Perhaps it is hardly a surprise Rooney has relished the extra
The 24-year-old might not be as overtly showy as Ronaldo but
his focus and determination have been invaluable to the Old
Trafford outfit at times this season.
At Hull on Sunday, he played a major role in all four goals,
scoring his 14th goal of the season to put the Red Devils ahead,
then creating two more after his mistake had allowed the Tigers to
level at the KC Stadium.
It was a welcome revival after a couple of lethargic
performances, one that his manager is hoping will continue.
“Wayne was fantastic on Sunday. That was the Wayne Rooney we
know,” said Ferguson.
“He had a quiet spell for two or three matches but he was
explosive at Hull. He was a constant threat.
“That is the kind of form we are hoping for because when he
is playing like that, he is hard to handle.”
With just nine goals needed to match his best campaign for
the Red Devils – in 2006-07 when he ended up as a title winner for
the first time – Rooney has a clear personal focus as he strives
for more team honours.
“Strikers always have personal targets,” said Ferguson, once
a forward himself.
“They always want to get to a certain number of goals and
maybe look at their best season.
“That is a good thing, providing they do not forget the fact
they are a team player.”
The impact of Dimitar Berbatov has been equally significant.
Berbatov is yet to win over a section of the United support
since his club record £30.75million arrival from Tottenham 18
But his efficiency is starting to pay dividends and, having
eased him through a knee injury Ferguson is now confident will not
require an operation, the Bulgarian will be a key figure in the
challenges that lie ahead.
“Dimitar has had a bit of a knee niggle but it is a lot
better now,” said Ferguson.
“We have been treating him quite carefully because we know
that we need him in the important second part of the season.
“He came through a full game against Hull and felt fine. He
doesn’t need an operation and hopefully that is it gone now.”