Ferguson plays down Terry talk
Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed John Terry's claim that Manchester United might buckle under the Premier League title pressure. United head into tomorrow's match against Wigan at the DW Stadium knowing victory would allow them to open up a 15-point advantage over Chelsea who are not in action this weekend.
A win for United tomorrow would effectively mean Chelsea needs to win at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday to stand any chance of retaining their crown. With that match ahead, it is little wonder Terry has tried to crank up the pressure on United this week. Ferguson, however, flicked the suggestion away curtly.
"You try things. We all try things," he said. "But it won't be easy to come back from that kind of points deficit. I said some time ago, the team that is most consistent would win the league. That is why I stress that we have to keep our momentum going and get that consistency."
United is unlikely to be affected by nerves at this stage of the season. With 11 Premier League and two Champions League titles, the most notable achievements of Ferguson's stellar reign, the ground over the run-in has been covered countless times.
Even in years like last term, when they did not finish top, United have still been involved in the shake-up, gathering experience that can be put to good use at some point in the future. Rather than shy away from the big games, such as Chelsea, Liverpool, where United visit next weekend, and Arsenal, their likely FA Cup sixth round opponents on March 12, Ferguson knows his players will be clamouring to be involved.
"My experience is that players want to play in all the games now," he said. "That is the problem. It is a nightmare picking teams at this stage of the season because you are leaving good players out of some very big games."
"This season I am helped a little bit because I have two or three injuries at the moment, so my options are condensed," Ferguson continued. "All the players who are going to be playing all the time are delighted at that."
Of the seven senior players who missed Wednesday's draw in Marseille, only two, Michael Owen and Ryan Giggs, are in contention to return this weekend. For Owen the news is particularly bright given the early feeling was that a groin injury that forced him out of training a fortnight ago could wreck his season and, potentially, his United career. Thankfully for the 30-year-old, the damage was not too bad and Ferguson has already explained why his experience could be so crucial in the final weeks of the campaign.
"Michael is back training and could be available tomorrow," he said.
Of the rest, central defensive duo Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans are pencilled in to return at Anfield, meaning in-form Chris Smalling will keep his place in the Stamford Bridge hot-house after another outstanding display in Marseille. Indeed, there are some who feel the 20-year-old would be unlucky to lose his place when Ferdinand does eventually return from a calf injury that flared up in the warm-up to United's shock defeat at Wolves earlier this month.
"Chris has done fantastic. But he is only 20," said Ferguson. "With Rio's experience, if he is fit and is ready for Liverpool, I would definitely play him. I am sure Chris would understand that."
United retain a 100 per cent record against Wigan, a run that includes a 2006 League Cup final triumph, and it is unlikely such an imposing record will come to an end this weekend, especially as a stodgy pitch has been relaid since the Latics last used it.
"The new pitch improves the quality of the game, there is no question about that," said Ferguson. "I believe it was very bad before but that they have done something about it is more in their interests than ours. If they thought it would help them to play us on a bad pitch, they would have left it. But they play in a particular way, where passing is important."