Fergie: Next two games massive

United are preparing to face the Stamford Bridge outfit knowing

defeat will knock them off the top of the Premier League and pitch

them into a two-game goal difference shoot-out to decide the

championship. It is a scenario Sir Alex Ferguson had hoped to avoid

by claiming something from last weekend’s trip to Arsenal. But

defeat, plus the memory of how United suffered at Chelsea’s hands

right in the middle of two huge tussles with Bayern Munich, has led

Ferguson to no other conclusion than he must make changes for

Wednesday’s semi-final second leg with Schalke. “If you look at our

experience of last year, the team were very tired against Chelsea

in that next game after losing in Munich,” he said. “All four

semi-finalists lost this weekend too and there are certain

statistics that tell you the European games do take it out of you.

“That has to have a bearing on my team selection. “We have two

massive games. Both as important as the other. “Chelsea is massive,

so I have to pick the right team on Wednesday to ensure I have the

same kind of freshness I need for Sunday’s match. “Hopefully I will

have the nucleus of a team that is still good enough to win the

match.” Ferguson knows that is not entirely necessary either. Last

week’s two-goal victory in Germany means Schalke must come up with

a repeat of their destruction of holders Inter Milan at the San

Siro. It appears highly unlikely, even if Ferguson is refusing to

take anything for granted. “It is always dangerous in football to

assume you have cracked it; that you have found a silver bullet or

discovered some secret formula for success,” said Ferguson. “We

live in exciting times for Manchester United and while I want both

players and supporters to enjoy every minute of it, we must take

nothing for granted. “It is very easy to get complacent in modern

life. There are many examples of it. “But Manchester United don’t

regard it as a formality and it certainly will not be.” There are a

couple of issues that are steering Ferguson towards his final

selection. Wayne Rooney reported for training this morning with a

tight hamstring. His importance to United at present is such that

Ferguson will not take any risks ahead of the Chelsea

confrontation, so the England striker will probably be on the bench

at best. Fabio missed training on Tuesday, so his right-back berth

will go to either twin brother Rafael or John O’Shea, whilst the

extent of Darren Fletcher’s recovery from a virus that has kept him

out for over two months will be tested at some point. “Darren will

play part of the game,” declared Ferguson. “He has shown great

improvement from the reserve game last week and his weight is back

to normal. “It is just that issue of game time and a little bit

more strengthening.” As United have recorded eight wins and three

draws from their 11 European engagements this term, when Ferguson

has repeatedly changed his team around, there is no hint of

trouble. Indeed, it could be argued the Red Devils have performed

to a more consistent level in the Champions League than they have

managed in domestic combat this term, even though they are still

top of the table. “The mundane football of the Premier League is

almost incessant tribalism,” said Ferguson. “You are either playing

a London team or a Yorkshire team or a Liverpool team. It creates

that incredible competitive edge. “You go into Europe and it is a

different type of football. It is a different way of playing.

Different tactics. “It possibly brings a better concentration from

us. It is the only answer I can think of.” Should Schalke be

disposed of, United can then look ahead to Chelsea, probably with a

degree of trepidation but with Ferguson still viewing the overall

picture in a rather straightforward manner. “We have to be

favourites for the title, if only because we are three points

ahead,” he said. “But that can evaporate quite quickly and we have

a big job to do. “As I said last week, the drama is not finished.”