Ferguson to assess home approach
Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted Manchester United's slack European performances will force him to reassess how to approach games at Old Trafford in future.
Normally so solid on home soil, United have endured a disastrous campaign. They only managed to win one of their three home matches in the UEFA Champions League and despite dropping into UEFA's secondary competition, the Red Devils have been even worse after the winter break.
Last night's defeat to Athletic Bilbao was their second in succession after they almost threw away a three-goal aggregate advantage against Ajax in the last round. And after last night's 3-2 reverse, Ferguson feels a change in attitude is now required.
"We have had a bad year in Europe," he said. "We conceded three against Basel, two against Benfica, another three against Bilbao and two to Ajax. That tells its own story. Maybe it is just one of those years where we are having to restock and assess how we should approach games at home."
Ferguson conceded that without a man-of-the-match display from young goalkeeper David de Gea, the damage could have been even worse. It was a sub-standard defensive display from the hosts, more in keeping with their early season performances which culminated in the horrendous 6-1 derby-day loss to Manchester City.
"There has been that slackness all season," said Ferguson, a view endorsed by midfielder Michael Carrick. "We have been giving the opposition too many chances, which tells a tale," said the midfielder. "That is not just putting the blame on the defence, it is the team as a unit. We have to defend right altogether. That hasn't been the case."
Focus on maintaining form
The strange thing is that the European nightmares have come in the midst of some excellent form on the domestic front. Since that near fatal wobble against Ajax, United have won at Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur. Before facing the Dutch giants they saw off Liverpool and came from three goals down to grab a point at Chelsea.
Now they must recover in time to tackle in-form West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on Sunday. "We are desperate to win the league again and Sunday is the next game," said Carrick. "It is massive, as they all are, and we will be ready for it."
Chris Smalling is United's main doubt, although with Rio Ferdinand due back anyway, the blow would not be too severe should the England defender not report for duty after the stitches in a head wound originally suffered playing for England reopened.
In theory, United are now embarking on a run of easier fixtures after the tougher tasks just completed. But Carrick has been around too long to be duped by such talk, especially as West Brom were the only side to leave Old Trafford with any points last term.
"We are satisfied with the situation we are in," said Carrick. "But just because we have come through a tough two months doesn't mean we will sail through the next two nicely. We are not getting carried away and we are not taking anything for granted. We know how quickly it can come back and bite us."