Stars aligning for Ferguson in title bid
Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United are in the right place at the right time to strike for Premier League glory, even though he accepts his side let the fans down in Europe. Manchester City's failure to win at Stoke yesterday means a draw against Fulham at Old Trafford tomorrow night will be enough for United to reclaim top spot.
Ferguson will be after a win though as he looks to turn the screw on City, who he feels may be starting to get affected by the pressure that is exerted in the battle for major honours. "We are in the right place, at the right time and, most importantly, with the right players," he told United Review. "After weeks trailing in second place we got our noses in front and I am sure our players are ready to put the pressure on again.
"Our guys have been flogging away and perhaps wondering if they would ever catch up before we hit the finishing line. Well, we did and they are capable of going in front again as we battle it out with City. Neck and neck now and I'd say it was an ideal time to be up with the leaders with only nine matches to go in the race for the title."
Yet, despite City's stuttering away form, it is going to take a high points total to secure a record 20th title. That United are in a position to achieve it is made all the more remarkable by the fact they were eliminated at an early stage from both European competitions.
In a week when Chelsea take on a Benfica side who proved too good for United in the UEFA Champions League, they must also cope with the knowledge of being comprehensively outplayed in both legs of a UEFA Europa League last-16 tie by Athletic Bilbao. "We accept we were well beaten and we have deserved the criticism that has come our way in Europe this season," said Ferguson. "I take my share of the criticism too with my selections."
"I took too many chances giving young players a run-out in an attempt to speed up their development and perhaps I asked too much of them. We always expect to qualify and with that in mind I perhaps pushed on too quickly in the Champions League. Long-term we might get the benefit, but not in the minds of our supporters, who want to see us win. So we let the fans down and I won't take as many chances next season."
With Nani and Michael Owen both due to return to training this week, Ferguson is getting the majority of his squad back. Long-term absentees Nemanja Vidic and Darren Fletcher are sidelined and there is some doubt as to whether Brazilian midfielder Anderson will recover from his hamstring strain before the season reaches its conclusion.
Number two goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard is also waiting on a comeback date after suffering an ankle injury in training just as he had ousted David de Gea from his first-team berth. "It has been a frustrating time but that's how life goes," Lindegaard told MUTV. "I don't know when I will be back, so I just have to keep smiling. It is the worst possible time for anyone to get injured."
The frustration is greater because since De Gea returned he has produced a series of magnificent performances that mean he, as much as anyone, is responsible for United's present status. "Of course I hope to have some involvement," Lindegaard said. "I want to contribute to winning the championship more than I have done so far.
"David has done a great job so far whilst I have been injured, and that is what it is all about, the team rather than individuals. Collectively, if we do our jobs properly I have not one single doubt in my mind that we will the trophy again this season."