Ferguson warns of relegation revivals
Sir Alex Ferguson has warned his players to beware opponents starting to wake from their slumbers who present a significant threat to Manchester United's Premier League title hopes. Five points clear of Manchester City with seven games remaining, Ferguson refused to respond to Roberto Mancini's theory that if United beat QPR on Sunday, and City lose at Arsenal, a 20th championship will be secure.
On paper, United's next three games against Queens Park Rangers, Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa, all of whom are mired in relegation trouble, could be perceived as straight forward. However, QPR have beaten Liverpool and Arsenal at Loftus Road on the last two weekends, while Wigan followed up their first-ever win at Anfield by defeating Stoke.
The relegation dog fight looks to be bringing out the best in the strugglers. Bolton have just won three matches on the trot and United failed to score until the final ten minutes at Blackburn on Monday merely underlines the hazards that must be overcome. "They are all wakening up I suppose," he said. "No-one would have bet on QPR beating Liverpool and Arsenal two weeks in a row and Wigan have had hit a bit of form too.
"The statistics for teams at the bottom picking up points are not good. What we had last weekend which was exceptional. All of a sudden Blackburn are right back into it and Villa are not out of it either. I don't need to get into it (Mancini's assessment). We must concentrate on the game ahead, which is QPR at Old Trafford."
If there is a concern amongst the United support, it is that their team believe the job is now done and they start to ease off after an incredible run that has brought them 31 points from a possible 33. Certainly a nervous final 15 minutes against Fulham a fortnight ago was not typical of a team so used to scrapping it out for major honours.
"I wouldn't anticipate complacency but if your concentration isn't 100 per cent you get moments in games like we experienced against Fulham," said Ferguson. "Four or five players gave the ball away in the space of five minutes and it created a bit of nervousness on the terraces.
"I made the point afterwards that it was good for us because it was an indication of how the games are going to be. Fulham stuck nine bodies across the penalty box, left one up and waited and waited. Then they had the energy left to have a go. That was an indication of how things may be for the rest of the season."
The return of Nani after a five-match absence with an ankle injury offers Ferguson more selection options over the next week. Nani is unlikely to be playing in his favoured right-wing position though given Antonio Valencia's outstanding recent form.
Valencia smashed home the all-important opener at Blackburn then supplied the assist for Ashley Young's well-taken second, which sent the massive visiting contingent delirious. As much as his squad, Ferguson recognises the significant part United's support has to play in keeping their cool as the drama unfolds.
"They have been important over the years at this time of the season," said Ferguson. "The surge they can give us, particularly at Old Trafford, in the last 15 minutes or so almost helps to suck the ball into the net. It's a terrific feeling. They definitely give us an advantage."