Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed Roman Abramovich’s “obsession” with winning the Champions League, reiterating that his Manchester United side is just as desperate to secure Europe’s premier competition this season. Speaking ahead of the quarter-final second leg clash at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, Ferguson claimed that the British press is “running away with sympathy for Chelsea,” with the Londoners’ only realistic chance of silverware now coming in Europe.
It’s a notion for which Ferguson holds much contempt and the 69-year-old United manager is determined that his side maintains a recent winning run, having beaten West Ham United, Chelsea and Fulham in the past 10 days and won the last six in succession.
However, Ferguson is likely to make significant chances to the side that overcame Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday. Wayne Rooney returns from a domestic suspension, while Rio Ferdinand, Rafael da Silva and Ryan Giggs could both come back into the side. The Scot could even pick the same starting 11 that beat Chelsea 1-0 at Stamford Bridge a week ago.
“Momentum is key: it’s what keeps you from going off your stride,” Ferguson said on Monday.
“Every game from this point on is like a cup final – the players thrive on that. In that respect I see similarities to 1999, but the circumstances are completely different as we didn’t have any injuries back then.
“We’ve coped very well this season, particularly with the injuries we’ve had in defensive positions. Having the likes of Anderson, Rio [Ferdinand], and [Antonio] Valencia back makes an incredible difference at this time of the season. They’re fresh and they know how to play for the club, so it’s not like signing new players as they don’t need time to adapt.”
Ferguson must decide whether to bring Portuguese winger Nani back into his side despite Antonio Valencia’s outstanding form since the Ecuadorian’s return from injury. Although the Scot could stand down Park Ji-Sung the United manager is apt to pick the South Korean on European nights.
The same cannot be said of Dimitar Berbatov of course and the Bulgarian’s tepid display against Fulham will have done his chances of making tonight’s side few favours. Although Javier Hernández has made little impact in the two matches started against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, Ferguson clearly trusts the 22-year-old Mexican as a man for the big occasions.
And another striker, Chelsea’s £50 million Fernando Torres, is a symptom of Chelsea’s European obsession, says Ferguson. Torres started in preference to Nicolas Anelka last Wednesday but sat out Chelsea’s weekend Premier League match against Wigan Athletic.
“It does seem to be an obsession with Chelsea to win the European Cup. That is why they signed Fernando Torres,” added the Scot.
“The owner has every much nailed his colours to the mast in that respect. I have felt that for quite a while with him. To have an obsession of winning the European Cup is stretching yourself a wee bit. At the end of the day it is a very difficult competition to win. All the best teams are there. You see the form of Barcelona at the moment – it’s fantastic.
“I had that obsession myself for a long time. Losing the semi-final against Borussia Dortmund [in 1997], I thought we were never going to do it.”
Another long derided forward, Rooney, will return to Ferguson’s team having completed one of a two match suspension for using “foul and abusive” language in United’s win at the Boleyn Ground recently. Indeed, the six-day break since Rooney scored against Chelsea in the first leg has enabled to striker to recharge his batteries, according to Ferguson.
“He will definitely be fresher after missing the game [against Fulham] on Saturday,” Ferguson said.
“That has given him six days’ good preparation and that could make a difference. In the first leg, Wayne Rooney adapted very well to the role we asked him to play. He had to combine partly defensive duties but with an attacking thrust, so in that respect he did very well and of course he put in a good performance.
“He is capable of causing problems no one else can. Balance, power, speed and a great tactical brain – the boy’s got everything.”
Meanwhile, Chelsea manager Ancelotti will choose two of Torres, Anelka and Didier Drogba, with the significant possibility that the Italian will accommodate an additional midfielder away from home. Despite playing without a traditional defensive central midfielder at Stamford Bridge last week – Michael Carrick and Giggs started – United dominated midfield, as Ferguson’s side had done in the Premier League encounter for 45 minutes.
The change might mean leaving Torres on the bench – a decision that might not go down well with owner Abramovich. However, Ancelotti can boast a fully-fit squad, with Yossi Benayoun and Alex returning to the side at the weekend. The Brazilian may start with fellow countryman David Luiz not eligible for the tie.
And Chelsea will have no fears at Old Trafford adds Ferguson, with familiarity an advantage non-domestic teams that normally visit Manchester on big these European nights.
“A British team coming here is different to a European team,” the Scot admitted.
“Although Juventus and Milan, over the years, have played here a few times. For Chelsea, they are here every year. There’s a familiarity with the stadium, the size of the pitch, the conditions of the pitch. All these things are in their favour compared with other European teams.”
It’s an advantage Ferguson hopes will not be significant with United looking for the draw or better than will secure passage through to the Champions League semi-final for the third time in the past four years. Indeed, with Schalke the likely opponents in the next round both teams will have one eye on a final. It would be United’s third since 2008. An obsession you might say.
Chelsea – 433 – Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry, Cole; Ramires, Essien, Lampard; Anleka, Drogba, Malouda. Subs from: Turnbull, Benayoun, Mikel, Malouda, Ferreira, Kalou, Anelka, Bosingwa, Zhirkov, Torres.
United – 433 – van der Sar; Rafael, Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Park, Rooney; Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Owen, Scholes, Berbatov, Bébé, Fabio, Park, Obertan, Smalling, Gibson, Tunnicliffe, Morrison, NaniKing, Anderson.
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (ESP)
Assistant referees: Fermin Martinez Ibanez, Juan Carlos Yuste Jiménez
Additional assistant referees: Fernando Teixeira Vitienes, Carlos Clos Gómez
Fourth official: David Fernández Borbalán (ESP)
United – WWWWWW
Chelsea – WDWDLW