Man United hoping to recover form
Manchester United appeared to be heading toward an unprecedented quintuple a month ago, but a string of lackluster results since capturing the season's second trophy have left the side's campaign hanging in the balance.sports Updated: Apr 10, 2009 18:02 IST
Manchester United appeared to be heading toward an unprecedented quintuple a month ago, but a string of lackluster results since capturing the season's second trophy have left the side's campaign hanging in the balance.
The Club World Cup and the League Cup triumphs will count for little at Old Trafford unless they are accompanied in May by the bigger prizes of the Premier League, Champions League and _ to a lesser extent _ the FA Cup.
Tuesday's 2-2 home draw against FC Porto in the Champions League has made reaching the semifinals of the competition a difficult task when the teams meet in the second leg next week in Portugal, while a seven-point lead in the Premier League has been slashed to a point in a month _ albeit with a game in hand _ over second-place Liverpool.
United manager Alex Ferguson has been downplaying the likelihood of a clean sweep of trophies _ even when goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar set a British record by going 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
"I kept trying to put down all the hyperbole about Manchester and untouchables," Ferguson told CNN ahead of Saturday's match at Sunderland. "One minute or the next minute or the next day you're going to get kicked in the teeth.
"That's football, and here we've lost two games (against Liverpool and Fulham) now we're not untouchables, we're the worst team in the history of Manchester United."
Ferguson did acknowledge flaws in his team selections after United came within 10 minutes of a third straight league loss Sunday, only for debutant striker Federico Macheda to score in stoppage time to clinch a 3-2 win over Aston Villa. While the Red Devils have had three days to recover from playing Villa and Porto inside 50 hours, they would have preferred an easier trip on Saturday than one to Sunderland, which is just one place above the relegation zone.
"Now we're in a battle," Ferguson said. "We've drawn with Porto at home, we've got a difficult tie now away from home. We've lost two league games to Liverpool and Fulham. Now the press are saying we're cracking up, we're tired, we've no midfield, we've no attackers, we've no goalkeeper, we've no defenders _ so we're back to normal."
"It doesn't matter what happened on Tuesday night against Porto," he added. "We're still in the European Cup with a chance, we're still in the FA Cup semifinal (against Everton) with a chance, we're top of the league."
Liverpool still believes it has a chance of catching United to win its first English title in 19 years, a feat that took on additional importance after the club's Champions League hopes were diminished by losing 3-1 at home to Chelsea in the first leg of their quarterfinal.
"We still have a chance to fight for the Premier League," midfielder Xabi Alonso said ahead of Saturday's game against Blackburn. "At home this season we have dropped too many points _ this time it has to be different. We have to start very well and play very well to win the game.
"It's important to do our job and that is to win this game." But with Chelsea just three points adrift in the league, midfielder Frank Lampard believes the Blues can use the impetus of the European win to climb above Liverpool.
"This result sets the tone really," Lampard said. "Everything is still up for grabs, even though we are behind in the league. It is important that we keep to the standard we played against Liverpool.
"When we look at the strength of our team throughout the pitch, we are as good as anybody. There have been times this season when we have not performed at our best _ and we have to take responsibility for that as individuals and as a team."
In the struggle to avoid relegation, West Bromwich Albion is eight points from safety and bottom of the league, but north east sides Middlesbrough and Newcastle, in 19th and 18th respectively, can still avoid dropping into the League Championship. Middlesbrough has 27 points _ three more than West Brom and two fewer than Newcastle _ and must beat 15th-placed Hull to revive its survival hopes. Alan Shearer takes charge of his second game at Newcastle in a tough trip at Stoke.
West Brom can have a big say on Portsmouth's Premier League status when the two meet at Fratton Park, with Pompey four points above Newcastle. Sunderland is a point behind Pompey. West Ham will be looking to cement its grip on seventh place and likely European qualification with a victory at Tottenham, knowing that eight-place Wigan hosts Arsenal at the same time. In Sunday's matches, Aston Villa hosts Everton and Fulham is at Manchester City.