United continue bid for immortality
Manchester United can take another step towards immortality with a victory over Tottenham Hotspur in tomorrow's League Cup final at Wembley. Even at Old Trafford, talk of winning the double or even the treble would usually be more than enough to satisfy the demands of a club who have gorged on success at football's top table for the last two decades. But those achievements - both savoured by United in recent years - have taken a back seat this term as the prospect of an unprecedented cleansweep of five trophies in one season edges ever closer.
Sir Alex Ferguson's side have already won the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 and have one hand back on the Premier League trophy after building a seven point lead over Liverpool. A repeat of last season's UEFA Champions League triumph remains a distinct possibility as well, after Tuesday's goalless draw against Inter Milan in the last 16 first leg battle in the San Siro put United in pole position to reach the quarter-finals. As if that were not enough to keep them occupied, United are through to the FA Cup quarter-finals, where they face Fulham next weekend.
To win every competition they have entered would rightly see Cristiano Ronaldo, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and company enshrined among the great teams in the history of the game. But failure to beat Tottenham, the current League Cup holders, on 1 March would shatter those dreams in one afternoon. So, despite Ferguson's protestations that Wednesday's Premier League clash at Newcastle United is more important than the result at Wembley, rest assured the Scot will send out a United team brimming with determination.
While most of their Premier League rivals struggle with the demands of competing for more than one trophy, United have shown remarkable stamina already in the hunt for the quintuple. Ferguson believes they have managed to last this far without surrendering in any competition thanks to their remarkable will to win.
"There is a winning mentality at the club which helps," he said. "We have been successful. Everyone wants to share in that and be involved in a winning team. That is one strong point and it is an important one."
Ferguson has promised to keep faith with the youngsters who impressed earlier in the competition, so despite their lack of experience, Danny Welbeck, Darron Gibson, Jonny Evans and Ben Foster are among the prodigies likely to start for United. But, as Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp concedes, there will still be more than enough quality in the United line-up to inspire fear in any opponent.
"Alex may change one or two, but he wants to win everything. That is why he is what he is. He's not going to put out a team that he doesn't think will win," Redknapp said.
Redknapp sent out a shadow side for Thursday's unsuccessful attempt to overturn a two-goal deficit against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Cup and he is likely to make up to ten changes for the final. Keeping his senior stars fresh for Wembley, and the forthcoming Premier League clash with Middlesbrough, should give Tottenham a fighting chance of retaining the trophy they won with a 2-1 success over Chelsea last season.
But Redknapp still has fitness doubts over captain Ledley King and midfielder Jamie O'Hara. He must also decide whether to play Roman Pavlyuchenko, who has scored in every round, as a lone forward or pair the Russian with Darren Bent.
Redknapp, who won the FA Cup with Portsmouth last season, said "Joe Jordan [Tottenham's first-team coach] said to me, people might remember you winning a cup and getting relegated, but it won't do you any good. You have to make sure of your priorities.
"Tottenham's record last time after winning the League Cup was incredible. They only had three wins after the final before I arrived in October. We can't afford to let that happen again."