|Who can stop Manchester United?
||[Mar. 9th, 2009|11:14 am]
Has one team ever threatened to be so dominant in a single season in English football?
Time was when English football used to talk in almost hushed tones of awe about the double, the League Championship and the F.A.Cup. Now, the bookmakers urgently reduce the odds on Manchester United winning five trophies this season. Two are already in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet: the World Club Championship and the Carling Cup. By the end of this important week, they may well have moved significantly closer to a third.
Already into the semi-finals of the F.A.Cup thanks to a coruscating 4-0 win at Fulham on Saturday, United now meet Inter Milan at Old Trafford on Wednesday night for a place in the quarter finals of the Uefa Champions League. And this weekend they meet Liverpool at Old Trafford in probably the crucial remaining League fixture.
Already almost out of sight at the top, United will surely all but clinch the title – barring some unbelievable springtime collapse – if they take all three points from Rafa Benitez's men. In truth, the title credentials of Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal collapsed disappointingly early this season. What was forecast to be a tight contest that would go down to the wire became a rout. But a United win next weekend will line up trophy No. 3 for Sir Alex Ferguson's men.
Ferguson increasingly resembles the arch gambler who has won the lottery. Just about all his investments have come up trumps and he can now deploy his assets – in this case the best squad of players in England and probably in Europe – as he sees fit. Some are left on the sidelines here, others brought back there. Not for him an over reliance on one or two crucial players, as is plainly the case with Liverpool on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres and Arsenal on Cesc Fabregas.
United's playing riches are the envy of every club they meet. They should complete the Italian job on Wednesday evening, another high emotion European night at United's Theatre of Dreams. That would put them well on the path to retaining their European crown. I continue to believe that only Barcelona are likely to stop Ferguson's men, although given their recent stumblings in La Liga, you now begin to wonder whether even they would do so.
Chelsea, Liverpool, Roma, Real Madrid, Arsenal......which of those clubs could in all honesty believe they'd turn over Manchester United in their present imperious form? And of course the secret of Ferguson's successes lie in his shrewd amalgam of expensive recruits, the likes of Berbatov, Ferdinand, Rooney, Vidic and Tevez, plus the continued, shrewd use of the old stagers like Giggs, Neville and Scholes plus the clever, gradual integration of younger blood like Jonny Evans, energetic workhorses like Fletcher and Park Ji-sung and some foreign youngsters like Rafael and Anderson.
This heady cocktail has proved far too much for most opponents. It's likely to continue to do so this week, too.