Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t a United Rant reader – at least not that we’ve been told here at Rant Towers – and, indeed, if there was any doubt that Rant’s message had failed to reach the great manager’s Carrington office then Ferguson confirmed it on Thursday. The Scot’s mistake? Buying into the hope that Manchester United may yet still win the Premier League title.
Manchester City’s trip to Newcastle United on Sunday, says Ferguson, is tricky and could result in dropped points. Wrong move, Sir Alex – no good can come of it!
We know differently here at Rant, of course, where the Gods of Hubris punished our premature conceit by surreptitiously planting the seed of Park Ji-Sung in Sir Alex’ brain. Entirely unbeknownst to the Scot, Ferguson unleashed an unfit ‘one and-a-half lung’ Park on City last Monday with entirely predictable results. This is, after all, the only credible theory we’ve come up with to explain the most mind-boggling team selection from the great manager in 25 years at Old Trafford.
But Ferguson’s power of denial is strong, with the 70-year-old coach glossing over the calamitous team selection and tactics in the one-sided defeat to City on Monday night. Not before blaming the players for United’s 4-4 draw with Everton a fortnight ago – a result that increased the pressure on the Reds heading into the derby.
“The Everton game was the killer for us. It was an absolutely ridiculous performance in the last 10 minutes of the match. Just absolute carelessness,” said Ferguson on Thursday.
“It’s all right saying the history of the club is to attack all the time but it was a stupid performance and it’s put us on the back foot, no question about that. If we lose the league, we’ll have to accept it’s the Everton game that did it.”
A fair point, given that United needed only to shut down the game at 4-2 to ensure victory against Everton. Yet, some fans might add that Ferguson’s decision to not add extra legs into midfield until after Everton had scored a fourth was a strategic error of negligent proportions. Rant couldn’t possibly comment.
But if Sir Alex is unwilling to accept his share of the blame for failure over the past four matches, then there is little surprise the Scot is placing faith in the Geordies to pull off a surprise result this coming weekend. Should Newcastle win or draw with City at St. James’ Park, United will be back in the Premier League driving seat.
And Newcastle, chasing fourth spot in the Premier League, has much to gain from taking points off City. Despite the recent hammering at Wigan Athletic’s hands, Newcastle has lost only twice at St James’ Park this season – to West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea last December. Then came Papiss Cisse’s stunning double as Newcastle beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. The European Cup finalists, beaten in their own back yard no less.
“The challenge for City is to win at Newcastle,” added a downcast Ferguson, one suspects in hope more than expectation.
“Newcastle are playing very well. They lost 4-0 at Wigan but galvanised themselves to win at Chelsea and, as everyone knows, winning at Chelsea is very difficult. We have not done it for eight years. Their form is good and it won’t be an easy game for City.
“Everton had something to play for when they came to us after losing to Liverpool, and they want to finish above Liverpool in the league. Newcastle are fighting for that position in the top four and have a chance. They are a point behind Arsenal and have the same number of points as Tottenham with two games left. It’s an exciting end to the season for all the teams involved in that. Newcastle is a very difficult place and they are playing well.”
The problem for United is that City, needing victory to all but secure a first league title since 1968, will head into the tie 4/6 favourites with the bookies for a very good reason – the confidence of Monday’s win, together with 10 goals scored in the Blues’ three previous games, will be near impossible for Newcastle to counter. On such momentum are champions normally made.
Thankfully, Ferguson also delivered a dose of realism for those fans still talking about goal difference, with United needing to make up eight and win two games for the Reds to keep the title without relying on help from elsewhere. With Swansea City and Sunderland to come, United will do well to take six points on current form, let alone hit somebody for a cricket score.
“They have got two games left. If they win their two games they win the league,” Ferguson added of City’s chances this season.
“People talk about goal difference, but it depends how many they win by. Say they win 3-0 on Sunday, their lead would be 11 and they still have QPR at home. That would be impossible. We will be aware of what is going on because everyone will be watching it, hoping it works out for us. You can’t avoid it, but whether we pay a lot of attention to it I don’t know because we still have to prepare for our own game. We are not going to be neglecting that part.”
Strangely though Mancini has spent the week insisting United’s fixtures against Swansea and Sunderland are “easy” compared to City’s trip to Newcastle followed by Queens Park Rangers at Eastlands in just over a week. It’s the second time the Italian has repeated the charge – a remarkably transparent attempt to rile United’s upcoming opponents.
It’s an insult Ferguson is quick to reject.
“I don’t think you get easy games,” Ferguson responded.
“If you are going to Sunderland on the last day of the season you are thinking with the support they have got up there and the manager they have got, you don’t expect an easy game.
“The way Swansea have played this season has been admirable. Brendan Rodgers came up through the Championship and he’s been rewarded with fantastic performances. He has stuck by his principles and they’ve had a fantastic season. When you talk about how you pick your manager of the year, you have to take into consideration the resources you have.”
Indeed, with just four points from United’s previous four matches Ferguson has much to fear from upcoming games. It has been a very un-United-like run-in, with talk of City ‘cracking up’ now long in the past.
It is the Reds that have most reason for introspection. Which is why it is now so surprising that United’s fates now rest in others’ hands. Just don’t start hoping too much just yet. It’s not good for your health.