Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fergie : Barcelona an example for Man United

Sir Alex Ferguson feels his Manchester United players need only take a look at what has happened to Barcelona in La Liga to see how quickly their fortunes could be transformed this season.

United head to Newcastle in a seemingly impregnable position at the Premier League summit.

The Red Devils would have to lose four times for Chelsea and Liverpool to stand a chance of overhauling them, which seems unlikely given they have only been defeated twice in league combat so far this term.

But it is only a matter of weeks since Barcelona were in a similar position. Now the gap to Real Madrid is down to four and Barca are suddenly wobbling.

"Barcelona have been playing Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday since January," observed Ferguson. "They did have an 11-point lead, now it is four and for the first time this season they lost a game after being in front.

"It is a warning, and there are plenty of them, that if you take your foot off the pedal you can get a kick in the teeth."

Yet it is easy to see why so many pundits are virtually handing United the title now.

Liverpool seem to be in disarray, while Chelsea have struggled for consistency all year and are still adjusting to life under Guus Hiddink.

Yet Ferguson finds it easy to remain focused and, while he detects no sign among his younger players that a 'job done' feeling exists in the United dressing room, he is pretty sure his more experienced campaigners would stamp it out if it did emerge.

"They would have one attempt at being complacent and it would be the last," said Ferguson of his youth brigade.

"We have plenty of bodies in the dressing room who would come down on them."

Ferguson is set to make major changes for the St James' Park trip, with the inclusion of six players who didn't play any part in the Carling Cup win over Tottenham at Wembley, including Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick and Wayne Rooney, who has recovered from a virus.

Also in the United line-up will be Nemanja Vidic, with his manager admitting he had made an error in putting him on the bench at the weekend and handing Rio Ferdinand a start instead.

"The only mistake I made on Sunday was with Vidic," revealed Ferguson.

"I didn't realise he had played three games in the competition.

"But I needed Ferdinand back into rhythm because he missed too many games from December onwards.

"Having got that really good game under his belt we hope Ferdinand and Vidic will be a really solid partnership to the end of the season."

With the Club World Cup and the Carling Cup now safely locked in the United trophy cabinet, United embark on a 10-day spell in which the reality of a quintuple bid will start to emerge.

The Premier League encounter with Newcastle, plus another against Liverpool at Old Trafford on March 14 sandwich Saturday's FA Cup trip to Fulham and the eagerly-anticipated Champions League decider with Inter Milan next Wednesday.

Should United come through that lot unscathed, the odds on an unprecedented five-timer will really start to tumble.

Not that Ferguson is giving such an achievement even the most cursory acknowledgement.

At the start of each season, the United chief sets his team the target of winning a major trophy.

In 2006, the Carling Cup alone fitted the bill. Now either the Champions League or Premier League would do nicely.

"I would be happy if we only won the Premier League from this point," he said. "It is a major trophy. I would love to see us winning the Champions League again. That is my big desire.

"But at this moment the Premier League has to be the best opportunity. If we keep our heads straight and focused we have a big chance."

Not that Ferguson is willing to meekly surrender United's European crown to Jose Mourinho next week.

"We have done the hard bit in a way by going there and proving our worth," he said. "Now all we need to do is win our home game and we are through to the quarter final."

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