Ferguson not ruling Chelsea out yet
Soccer:Alex Ferguson refuses to concede the title race is as a two-horse race, but the Manchester United boss does expect it to be eventually. With United maintaining their position at the top of the Premier League by beating West Ham on Wednesday, neighbours City remaining unbeaten and Chelsea held scoreless by Fulham, a gap suddenly opened between the Manchester duo and the rest.
A point in front of City, the Red Devils are now seven ahead of third-placed Chelsea, sparking fears of a runaway, as was the case last season when Arsenal were an incredible 19 points behind the pair who were split by the tightest of goal difference margins.
“You can’t be certain of saying it’s going to be a two-horse race at this stage,” said Ferguson. “But over the years we’ve said that the top five or six are all capable of winning the league and eventually it does ends up being a two-horse race. Year after year it’s been like that. There was space between the two teams and others last year. The important thing to do is just look at yourselves - we want to be up there all the time. We need to stay up there and this is not an easy league to do it in.”
If United beat relegation-threatened Reading at the Madejski Stadium tomorrow, it will mean they head to the Etihad Stadium in top spot next weekend, just as they did last April when Kompany did so much damage to their hopes of a record 20th championship.
Since then, Ferguson has seemed almost obsessed by the need to improve United’s scoring record. Yet he now concedes it is the strength of his side’s defence that could be the major factor.
“Good defenders win you leagues,” he said. “There is no question about that.”
To that end, news of Nemanja Vidic’s imminent return from knee surgery is a major plus.
There is still a feeling that Vidic’s partnership with Rio Ferdinand is the best United have open to them, even if the latter man’s appearances are having to be restricted these days as well.
“I gave Rio a rest the other night with tomorrow’s game in mind,” said Ferguson. “With Chris Smalling and Phil Jones back it definitely gives me the right type of problem.”
Ferguson accepted the irony of a situation that just as he is starting to see some easing in the defensive nightmare he has endured since the season began, now his wide players should start falling by the wayside.
Nani and Antonio Valencia have been ruled out of the Reading trip with hamstring and hip injuries respectively, whilst Ashley Young’s form has not been the same since he returned from a knee problem.
One area Ferguson is wrestling with just now is his goalkeeping department.
It had seemed as though David de Gea had finally banished doubts over his ability to handle to physical nature of the Premier League and won the battle with Anders Lindegaard to be first-choice. However, a badly-timed problem with his wisdom teeth forced him out of Ferguson’s team once more.
Whilst Lindegaard played on losing sides against both Norwich and Galatasaray, he kept his place for victories over QPR and West Ham, when United managed only their third clean sheet of the entire season. And there is no guarantee De Gea will return at the Madejski Stadium.
“Anders has done nothing wrong since he came into the team,” said Ferguson. “That is what is keeping him in. It’s good that you’ve got two good goalkeepers competing for a position.”