Robson backs United to see off City
Bryan Robson is convinced only Manchester United's massive injury list can prevent them winning the Premier League this season. Despite Manchester City's thrilling win over Chelsea last night, it is the Red Devils who boast a one-point advantage with nine games remaining.
Taking out the derby-day clash at the Etihad Stadium on 30 April, it is Roberto Mancini's team who still appear to have the toughest run-in, including trips to Stoke City on Saturday, Arsenal and Newcastle United.
Robson's fear is that United's ability to shrug off chronic injury problems may eventually fail them. Captain Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher were ruled out for the season in December, Anderson may not return either after suffering a hamstring problem, while Nani, Phil Jones and Anders Lindegaard were the senior players missing from Sunday's five-goal rout of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
"The only detriment to United winning it could be loads of injuries," said Robson. "Even if they lose out this time, United will be a bigger threat next season. They will not have another one where they suffer so many big injuries because this year it has been horrendous."
Given his status as an Old Trafford legend and club ambassador, it is hardly surprising Robson believes United will come out on top. But the assertion comes from more than just sentiment.
"Because of their experience over the years, Manchester United will not take it for granted," he said. "They will not ease off.
"Paul Scholes has been a big influence. They have won nine and drawn one since he came back. But some of the other players have stepped up to the mark: Rio Ferdinand, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick. They have all been excellent and Wayne Rooney has been scoring outstanding goals.
"On paper, City have the worst of the fixtures too, although United won't look at that too much because every game in the Premier League can be tough. Everybody will say the key issue is the game at Manchester City. But if United win it, they will win the league. They are going to have to lose it rather than City winning it."
For all the ability within the United dressing room, the importance of Sir Alex Ferguson cannot be understated. Robson feels the dismissive manner with which the Scot acknowledged what he felt was an "adequate" win at Molineux was another managerial masterstroke, ensuring his players did not get carried away with themselves.
Ferdinand underlines Ferguson influence, Berbatov exist looms
Ferdinand is even closer to the action. And the 33-year-old acknowledges what an integral figure his boss is.
"The experience and desire that comes from the manager is very important," he said. "He wants to win and he has been here 20-plus years, so if he still wants to win, why can't people who have been here ten, five, two years, one year? They have got to have the same belief and fire in their belly to want to achieve that as well."
United will have Jones back for Monday's encounter with Fulham, by which time they will be back in second spot if City avoid defeat at Stoke.
On recent evidence, Dimitar Berbatov cannot expect much involvement. Last week, Ferguson confirmed his £30.75m record signing would probably be sold this summer. And, according to Berbatov's agent Emil Danchev, terms have already been agreed, even if he did not say where the 31-year-old was heading. "The financial affairs are in order," Danchev told TZ.