Man United trudging toward record 19th title

Published Jan. 17, 2011 5:06 a.m. ET

Top of the Premier League and unbeaten without hitting top gear, Manchester United is creeping toward a record 19th English title.

The slip-up anticipated by United's rivals all season is yet to transpire as Alex Ferguson's side grinds out result after result while looking far from ruthless.

''Considering we are not playing so well - as everyone keeps telling us - and we are lagging behind in the performance stakes, we are doing OK, we are there,'' United's assistant manager Mike Phelan said. ''So it's up to everyone else to crack on and catch us up.''

Tottenham couldn't though on Sunday, settling for a 0-0 draw against a resilient United side despite having a man-advantage for 15 minutes after Rafael da Silva was sent off.

''I couldn't say they are on another level and are going to walk away with the title,'' said Harry Redknapp, manager of fifth-place Tottenham. ''I can't see them going the year unbeaten. There are lots of teams who could beat them on any given day.''

But the point earned at White Hart Lane ensured United ended the weekend top of the standings, only ahead of Manchester City on goal difference but with games in hand away to Blackpool and Chelsea.

United's title charge has been helped by Chelsea blowing at five-point lead since the start of November, with the champions occupying fourth spot behind Arsenal and City.


Redknapp, though, can't understand why United still leads the pack - especially after Alex Ferguson resisted making big-money signings to replace key players in recent years.

''You can't be as good a team as you were a year or two ago when you had (Cristiano) Ronaldo and (Carlos) Tevez,'' Redknapp said. ''Other teams have improved and got closer to them, but at the moment they are still top of the pile after losing players like that.''

But they have retained Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, whose solid central defensive partnership thwarted Tottenham's strike force on Sunday.

''The kind of pressure we were under (at Tottenham) were just long balls into the box really,'' Ferguson said. ''With Ferdinand and Vidic as your center backs you know you can cope with that - they were fantastic.''

Striker Wayne Rooney, though, has scored just one goal from open play since March for United amid problems with injuries and his personal life.

Ferguson knows there are some deficiencies in the side, accepting that at Tottenham his players were ''careless in possession at times.''

''We didn't bother them too much, we had one or two good opportunities at times when we got to the last third of the field but we just didn't quite have the cutting edge,'' Ferguson said. ''In the second half Anderson has attacked the back four, right onto the back four, four times and maybe his selection of pass or a shot on goal would have been better.''

United has league matches against Birmingham, Blackpool, Aston Villa and Wolverhampton in the next three weeks before facing its next major test in the bid to reclaim the trophy from Chelsea: a home match against neighbor Manchester City.

And with each game, the team is closer to emulating Arsenal's ''Invincibles'' side which won the title in 2004 without losing a match.

''Nobody in the squad is talking about that challenge - we're only talking about winning the league,'' United defender Patrice Evra said. ''All the country was against Manchester United (at Tottenham) - everybody wanted us to lose, but we didn't.''