Fortnight to make a season

Manchester United faces Chelsea, Liverpool, (potentially) Arsenal and then Marseille in the Premier League, FA Cup and then Champions League over the next fortnight. It’s a two-week spell that will go a long way towards shaping the club’s season. In a fortnight Sir Alex Ferguson’s men, clear at the head of the Premier League, could be genuine contenders for the treble or face heartbreak on three fronts.

In a season where United has often justifiably been criticised for performances that have lacked, as Didier Deschamps put it, “stardust,” it could yet become one of the most remarkable campaigns in the club’s history.

It’s a punishing schedule that is aided only by the relative poor form of Liverpool and Chelsea this season, together with Arsenal’s equally packed fixture list. Nonetheless these four games will decide whether United heads into April and May fighting on all fronts or potentially disappointed by failure. Indeed, lose at one or both of Stamford Bridge and Anfield and the title initiative could head Arsenal’s way, despite United’s current lead.

Of course, some of the gloss has already been taking off the Reds’ visit to Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night, with United 12 points ahead of Carlo Ancelotti’s outfit. John Terry, typical of the man, has talked up the Londoners’ chances – claiming United will crack under the pressure – more realistically a Champions League place is the best outcome for Chelsea this season before Ancelotti inevitably is dismissed this summer.

However, last season’s champions could significantly damage United’s chances should victory over the Reds follow last season’s Premier League double. Indeed, with Chelsea’s two winning goals in last season’s fixtures both mired in controversy Ferguson could do with catching a break at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday night – a ground on which the Reds have not won since April 2002.

Meanwhile, Liverpool’s mixed form under Kenny Dalglish has brought wins over Chelsea, Sparta Prague, Stoke City and Fulham but a sobering loss at West Ham United today. Indeed, new strike pair Andy Carroll – who is yet to feature – and £22 million former Ajax hitman Luis Suarez must hit the ground running if the Anfield outfit is to qualify for Europe next season.

Dalglish’s success or otherwise may already now rest on the Europa League – a Champions League spot still an outside bet with the Merseysiders lie six points behind Chelsea in fourth spot, having played twice more. Whatever the club’s form, Liverpool is surely unlikely to perform as limply as it did in the crucial fixture against Chelsea last May – a victory for the Londoners that effectively sealed the title.

Meanwhile, United’s probable FA Cup fifth round fixture with Arsenal – assuming the Londoners beat Leyton Orient in next week’s replay – will take place on the weekend of 12/13 March, just days before the club’s return leg with Marseille. In a season where United’s priorities remain a 19th Premier League title and Champions League progress Ferguson will surely rotate against the Gunners, in a match that now takes on added significance for Arsenal after today’s humiliating loss to Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final.

Yet, while each of these domestic ties could significantly change events in favour of United’s rivals – especially with Ferguson’s outfit rarely impressive away from home – the Reds can potentially fatally damage others’ hopes. Win twice in the coming week and United will go into domestic and European cup ties in huge confidence.

Conversely, even if United remains favourites to beat Marseille at Old Trafford on 15 March, the precarious state of the tie will seem more daunting still should results not go the Reds way in the next fortnight. More so given the French outfit’s improving results – Didier Deschamps side beat Nancy 2-1 at the weekend to close within a point of Rennes at the top of League 1.

Fortunately, United is likely to head into the fortnight with Wayne Rooney in tow despite calls for the 25-year-old striker to face FA sanctions. Referee Mark Clattenburg could yet report the striker and the FA deal with the player an ‘extraordinary case’ but precedent suggests otherwise, with the official having dealt with the incident on the field of play.

Indeed, it may have been the striker’s “worst ever season” but with a modicum form returning against Wigan Athletic on Saturday Rooney could well fire the Reds to glory in the next couple of weeks. The most important fortnight of United’s season to date.

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Comments

    • Geno says

      I’m betting Clattenburg says in his report that he saw it and dealt with it, and sticks with that line. If he admits that he didn’t really see it but gave the free kick because he heard the crowd response, he’s basically admitting that he screwed up, plus he’s likely to then have Fergie and Phelan go on TV and say that he buckled to media pressure after the event to change the facts in his report. On the other hand, if he sticks with the story that he saw it and interpreted it as a minor foul, he’ll get a bollocking from his match assessor (which he’s going to get either way) and a bit of a wrist slap from Mike Riley, and then everyone gets on with their lives because nobody from Sky or the BBC is going to bother asking Roberto Martinez about the incident ever again.

      The problem for the FA in revisiting this after the event is that if they do set a precedent with Rooney, the next time some perceived “bad boy” or “hard man” (eg Joey Barton, Nigel de Jong) gets a foul or a yellow instead of a red card for a rough tackle, the press will start campaigns to get them banned as well. Easier for the FA to rely on the foul having been given in the match – especially given that it’s not like Wigan’s 10,000 odd fans worldwide are going to be kicking up much of a stink.

  1. Triggs says

    I think Rooney will probably escape a ban, but am I the only one who wouldn’t really care if he was banned? I’d prefer Chico and Berba to start at Chelsea. Terry will be scared stiff of Chico’s pace. Also, Rooney is always crap at Anfield and becomes the focus of their fans’ bile, he’s always on the brink of getting sent off there. And again, Carragher won’t be able to handle Hernandez.

    I know Liverpool always raise their game against United, particularly at Anfield, but they really were terrible yesterday. Stevie Me ain’t playing well, Carragher looks dodgy and Suarez although dangerous, looks like he can be bullied by top quality defenders. This game’s always a lottery, but provided VDS, Vidic and Evra are fit, I think we’ll be ok.

    Arsenal’s season is on the brink of freefall. They’re a fragile bunch and although most teams would respond to the CC final defeat in a positive fashion, I think it’ll knock Arsenal’s confidence. In addition their injuries (to key players) are pilling up. They’ll lose to Barca too and again that will deflate the Club rather than provide them with focus. Unless Fergie messes about with the team too much, I can’t see them winning at OT, they’re just not mentally strong enough.

    As regards Chelsea tomorrow, Fergie should remind them how United’s terrible first half performance last year at OT, gifted them the league. I really think Fergie will have them pumped for this one and the questionable commitment (this season) of the likes of Essien, Ramires, Malouda and Torres will be exposed. It would be so sweet to beat them at SF, purely to look at Terry’s face as he’s walking off contemplating Europa League football.

  2. ltel says

    rooney will face no action from the FA,
    to be honest i think he should have. he did elbow him. if someone did it to our player there would have been uproar

    • says

      Itel – there would have been but it’s the FA’s own fault for designing riddiculous rules. Rules effectively say refs can make mistakes on red cards but on nothing else.

  3. says

    Lucky boy. Now he need to really turn it on against Chelsea & Liverpool; can he? The league has to be the priority,we have not got the class to win the CL. Three points would be good; anything more a bonus.

  4. ltel says

    league is important defo, anyone can win the cup competitions. 19 is the one we all want,lord ferg can retire with a smile on his boat race and a job well done

  5. ltel says

    yea its daft, reds can be overturned but yellows cant, all mistakes should be looked at
    and serious refereing errors should result in them being withdrawn from big games.

  6. Ashish says

    I would like us to win both our games against Chelsea and Liverpool.

    However even if we get a draw in either one or in both these games,I wouldn’t be too disappointed.

  7. bman says

    Blog Commenter said:
    Lucky boy. Now he need to really turn it on against Chelsea & Liverpool; can he? The league has to be the priority,we have not got the class to win the CL. Three points would be good; anything more a bonus.

    tbh I’d be surprised if we got any more than 3 points against Chelsea.

  8. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Read some of the coverage from around the web… the hypocricy is astounding…

    “Only United could get away with this”… blah, blah…

  9. Sidsidney says

    They think it’s a United/Fergie conspiracy; that he’s controling the FA and all that ABU bollocks

    And Fergie has stoked the fire by publicly saying “he never even touched him!”

    They forget Gerrard wasn’t punished for 2 identical forearm smash incidents. And the one in the bar which he also got off with

  10. triggs says

    I noticed the normally decent F365 getting involved in this too…

    “There has been a flat-lining familiarity to Manchester United players enjoying impunity this season – Gary Neville at Stoke, Wes Brown and Nemanja Vidic at Aston Villa, Neville, again, at West Brom, Rafael at Blackpool.

    It’s become familiar, wearisome, depressing, bothering. The season is turning flat.

    In years gone by, the turning-points in United’s success have invariably come from their own astonishing deeds. Steve Bruce’s headers against Sheffield Wednesday. Peter Schmeichel’s penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp. Federico Macheda’s twist to defeat Aston Villa two years ago. This season, the majority of their clutch moments have been inspired by official cowardice.”

    I’ve never been one to support the ABU media conspiracy, but that right there is exactly that.

    Rooney escaped punishment because of Clattenburg’s ineptitude and the PL’s stupid rules not because he’s Wayne Rooney and plays for United.

    In a perfect world Fergie would have acknowledged it was bad and got Rooney to apologise to the player. But a top 4 club with two key away games can not afford to lose first team players, so instead we get his stupid quotes and Phelan’s hypocritical “we must support the referee’s decision” bollocks. Any other club in the same position would have done the same.

  11. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    to be fair wayne tried to do him and fucked it right up, mccarthys five foot nothing and wet behind the ears, was a disappointing effort from wayne

    shearer or gerrard wouldve done it properly, ask welbeck

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