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

championship four-timer.

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

experience.”

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

responsibility.

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

months ago.

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.”