Sir Alex: Blues are the biggest threat
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
“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 tomorrow 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
“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
“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.”