Destiny still in Reds’ hands



Recriminations over the weekend’s defeat to Arsenal, coupled with Chelsea’s fortuitous win over Tottenham Hotspur the previous day, may not be forgotten but Manchester United is still master of its own destiny on European and domestic fronts. No matter the conjecture emanating from Stamford Bridge, seven points in Manchester United’s three remaining Premier League matches will seal the title for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.

The question is whether a one-off match against Chelsea at Old Trafford will bring out the best in Ferguson’s outfit, as seen recently witnessed against the Londoners and Schalke in European competition. Indeed, Saturday’s defeat in north London owed much to United retreating from the fluid football of recent weeks, returning it seemed to the negativity that marked the Reds’ early season away performances.

Yet, at home United’s mentality is very different, where Ferguson’s outfit has won 16 of 17 fixtures in the Premier League and scored an astonishing 43 goals – a total significantly higher than any other side at home this season. Call it the ‘United way’, call it an attacking philosophy, but there is a strong suspicion that the Premier League title is the Reds’ to lose but only if the timidity seen away from Old Trafford is transported to home turf.

“We have our destiny in our hands. We have a massive game against Chelsea. If we want to win the title then we have to beat Chelsea – it’s as simple as that. If we don’t beat them then we’ll be in trouble,” says left-back Patrice Evra.

“We just need to play the Man United way. I am not worried because we know we didn’t do the things we normally do against Arsenal. We have three games left and need to win every game. Every game is a final.”

“We didn’t feel in trouble. We knew how Arsenal would play. They kept possession of the ball but never looked dangerous. Normally when we visit the Emirates we play with speed, power and aggression, and create more chances than we did on Sunday. That is why I am very disappointed.

“There were some difficult decisions but I don’t want to talk about the referee, the problem was Man United, not the referee. It is easy to find some excuse. We did not play the Man United way and when we don’t play the Man United way, we don’t deserve anything.”

The dilemma for Ferguson is whether to set his team up to play on the front foot against last season’s champions on Sunday. The equation is, of course, black and white for supporters; the United way is to attack from the opening whistle. One suspects there are greater nuances for Ferguson though, who is surely confident that his team will beat Blackburn Rovers and Blackpool in United’s final two Premier League matches.

Chelsea, meanwhile, must win at Old Trafford with tricky matches first at home to Newcastle United and then away at Everton to come. The longer United keeps the match tight against Chelsea the more likely the Londoners will be vulnerable to the counter-attack.

Yet, says striker Javier Hernández, United is expected to play for the win. Always.

“Giggs and Scholes tell us that we need to play like Manchester United players, always remembering the club’s rich history and never giving less than 100 per cent on the field,” Mexican striker Hernández told Inside United this week.

“Being a United player is about winning – you can never think about drawing or losing games. It’s that attitude that can help us to win trophies. We need to avoid silly errors to give ourselves the best chance of winning, and to play every game like it’s our last one.”

Yet, the focus among supporters at least is firmlyon United’s match with Chelsea on Sunday. If that picture is mirroed in Ferguson’s squad, there is a very real risk that the Scot’s players will take their eye off Wednesday night’s return with Schalke. After all, although the Reds are two goals to the good, Schalke scored five against Inter in Milan during the quarter-final rout.

Moreover, with Ferguson planning to rest Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Hernández there is a very real risk that United will hand Schalke the momentum on Wednesday. It is a risk Ferguson believes is worth taking against a side United so comfortably defeated beat last week.

“If you look at the experience of last year when we lost the league, the team were very tired against Chelsea after playing Bayern Munich on the Wednesday,” Ferguson told the media on Tuesday.

“That will have a bearing on my team selection. We’ve got two massive games, both as important as the other. There will be some changes (against Schalke). Hopefully the nucleus of the team is still good enough to win.

“The interesting thing about last weekend was that the four (Champions League semi-final) teams all lost (league matches). So European games do take it out of you. I have to pick the right team tomorrow in order to have the same kind of freshness I need for Sunday’s match.”

It is a gamble Ferguson makes in the knowledge that Schalke must score three times at Old Trafford without reply to deny United a place in the 28 May final against Barcelona. Yet, defeat to Schalke – possible against a team that under-performed at home – will take further wind out of United’s sails, even if Ferguson’s side makes the final.

After all momentum at this stage of the season is key. It is perhaps why now, more than any other, Ferguson’s side must revert to the positivity that has brought the best out of his side this season.

Destiny, as Evra says, is still in the Reds’ hands.

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  • ltel

    any positive result will do,we have beat them twice already, im confident

  • ltel

    any positive result will do,we have beat them twice already, im confident

  • sidney

    I think we’ll draw, and draw against Blackburn, beat Blackpool and win the league

  • Alfonso Bedoya

    A lot depends on tomorrow night… Rooney is nursing a hamstring, and Fergie will want to rest as many as he can… so hopefully we can win without much effort.

    If we take on the Renties fully fit, and well rested… we’ll do ‘em… but they’ve got all week to tool up for the match… if we’re not well hard… we’ll get done.

  • sheesh

    We only have ourselves to blame for putting ourselves in this ridiculous situation where much is riding on the Chelsea game and we have this conundrum of who to pick for the Schalke fixture. The league should have been done and dusted ages ago.

    There are no excuses if we cock up any of the next 3 matches.

    • damian garside

      I agree totally with your sentiments Sheesh. Just on the 7 points thing: its a bit misleading of the Editor to say we only need 7 points from the last 3 games when one of those games is against Chelsea.In no possible scenario do we actually win the league because we got 7 points, a win or draw against Chelsea means that less is needed, a loss against Chelsea means we can’t get 7 at all. A win at OT means we are again 6 points ahead and have a positve goal difference on them. We would have to lose our last two games not to win the league in this case. A draw means we are still 3 points ahead on equal goal difference and a big win in any of our last two games or a win and a draw will do it. A narrow single goal defeat means we are level on points and a gola difference of minus two in arrears. Our team is not scoring freely enough to redress this at this stage, so even if we win both our games I suspect a Chelsea team on such a roll will win theirs and we could lose the title on goal difference. a sinbgle goal defeat and there is still the slimmest of chances (about a 10% chance of the ttile coming our way). We lose by more than a single goal and I’m sorry but that;s all she wrote. It isn;t over till the fat lady sings and there she is (John Terry in a dress)singing.

      Before the weekend’s games our chances of winnign the league were over 80% given all the permutations. Now we are down to about 55%, factoring in current form etc.

      Suppose we end up with `nowt’. in that case I would hazard a new definition for `Fergie time’: no longer the time added on at the end of the game for us to get a vital goal (we can credit Man City fans with this witticism), but now meaning, the time it takes for United fans to realise their once great manager has lost it (old age will catch up on all of us at the end) and ask him politely or less politely to step down (I am a Mancunian born South African — as you know here in SA we are experts in less polite ways to get people to step down).

      I was at Manchester University from 77-80 and remember how those days we were happy if we could just beat City home and away, get a win and a draw off Liverpool and win a Cup Final. In that case it was a stupendous season. Our best player was Jimmy Greenhoff and I thrice was at OT to see United demolished (by Clough’s Notts Forest, the year they came up from Div 2 and went on to win the title, by a Bryan Robson powered WBS, and by Dalgelish’s Liverpool). Maybe now we are blind to the harsh economic realities of trying to make ends meet and win titles under the tight-fisted Glasers. Maybe we should forget about the great days when we swept other teams off the park or won in huge style (the 68 European Cup final, 63 cup final, 94 double).

  • http://none ian

    With this team it is hardly a “ridiculous position” to be two goals up in a European semi-final & still top of the league. Clearly a win, (or draw) against Chelsea is the priority, so the key players must be fresh. We need to be solid against Schalke & just hope the governor keeps Gibson well away from the fray. We need a solid 90 minutes from Anderson; he showed against Everton that he can do it, but can he do it again? I do hope, that as I write, Scholes is not filing his studs.

  • herbie simms

    Who would have thought that Chelsea who were 15 points behind United are now in with a chance to win the title.
    Playing two hard games a week will take its toll on the players, mentally and physically but SAF must keep the players motivated. He needs to rotate players but ne must get his formation right and keep the defence tight against Schalke because they will come looking for an early goal.
    As for Chelsea, Man Utd. needs to come out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. Need to win this one, big time!
    I’m sure Drogba and Torres will start this time so we will definately have to keep a tab on them.

    • mongoletsi

      // Who would have thought that Chelsea who were 15 points behind United are now in with a chance to win the title. //

      Anyone smart enough never to write off Chelsea?

      // Playing two hard games a week will take its toll on the players, mentally and physically but SAF must keep the players motivated. //

      Are you Andy Townsend in disguise?

      // I’m sure Drogba and Torres will start this time so we will definately have to keep a tab on them. //

      If you’re right, I’ll bum a bitter. I’m not gay, so that’s how much it’ll hurt me if you are right.

  • hoggy

    Well i’m glad that we haven’t won anything yet..bcos the next 2-3 games will show us the Real quality of this team..This season has been a mixed bag but i cant remember united playing this badly for an entire season..so if they can beat chelsea & schalke then match up to barca in the finale well then we have no reason to complain..can’t see it happening though..

  • herbie simms

    Your right about that! But judging by the movement and bids now that have been put in for new players this summer, I believe that SAF finally realizes that he has to strengthen the team for next season. United are now busy putting in bids for players, so this is a good sign.