Sir Alex Ferguson says his Manchester United side is better than critics have assessed, with the Reds unbeaten in the Premier League this season. United hasn’t lost in the Premier League for 25 matches but seven domestic draws this season and some disappointing performances has seen critics sharpening knives.
But the 69-year-old Scot has blamed the media for talking down his side, which has lost just once this season – away at West Ham United in the Carling Cup quarter-final last month. However, Ferguson also admits that his outfit has been poor away from home this season, with just one win on the road.
“You are always going to have a different appraisal of Manchester United to other clubs,” said Ferguson, who believes his side will improve during the run-in, starting with the club’s trip to White Hart Lane today.
“But it is good for the players to be reminded that sometimes we have to be perfect. It’s a fact of life. We have to keep raising the bar.
“Our performances have been wrongly assessed. There have been some away games that have been disappointing but there has not been a single home game that we did not dominate. Not one.
“Even the Arsenal game we dominated. We could have scored five against Arsenal, truth be told. In the press you read it was a bad game, a terrible game. Arsenal had one shot at goal against Manchester United. That’s the truth of the matter. Our performances at home have been very good.”
Indeed, ten wins at home have spring-boarded United to second place in the table with three games in hand on closest challengers Manchester City. The Reds sole draw at home – the fixture with West Bromwich Albion in October – remains the only points dropped at Old Trafford this season.
Yet, on the road United’s performances have been much poorer, and not only in terms of results. Games at Birmingham City, Sunderland and West Brom could – arguably should – have been lost by Ferguson’s side. Fortune and United’s capacity to dig results out of poor performances remain key to the Reds’ unbeaten league season.
“Away we have played badly at times,” concedes Ferguson. “Sunderland yes, West Brom, yes. We threw four points away at Fulham and Everton.”
Mixed results have led some critics to argue that this is the worst squad since 2003-5 period, when United won just the FA and Carling Cups in three seasons. Indeed, observers have suggested United’s position owes as much to the failing of others, rather than the Reds’ brilliance this season.
Others, including Ferguson, see the promise of youth, with Anderson, Nani, Wayne Rooney, Javier Hernández and the da Silva twins spearheading a new United generation as the careers of others come to an end. With the end near for the final members of ‘the class of ’92’ the new generation still has some way to go before it proves the equal of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.
“Those boys – the class of 1992 – were brought up at the club. We produced them,” adds Ferguson.
“The boys we have at the moment, we bought them but our judgment has been good in terms of scouting them. And we have used different departments to do the scouting.
“The academy scouting department got us the Da Silvas. Our mid-academy, youth scouting got us Javier Hernández. With the full-time scouting department, the first-team scouting, bringing in Anderson and Nani was done at that level.”
The latter pair, brought to the club at a cost of more than £35 million is arguably only proving value – to coin a phrase – in recent months, more than three years into their United careers. Yet, Rafael da Silva is maturing rapidly and Hernández has proven an instant hit, if not assessed ready for a regular first team start.
Arguably the raw material is better than Ferguson had in 2002 when the last major rebuilding work began. First Cristiano Ronaldo and then Rooney were brought to bolster a United squad that, almost laughably, contained Liam Miller, Kléberson and Eric Djemba-Djemba, even if it seems unlikely the club will spend more than £40 million on a teenage pair in today’s more parsimonious economic times.
Whatever the assessment of United’s current squad, away performances will surely need to improve if Ferguson’s outfit is to land the major prizes this season. Today’s trip to White Hart Lane is followed by fixtures at the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Anfield on the road. Then there is the Champions League where a double-header with Marseille awaits in February.
Ferguson says that the next few months is “our time of the year.” On this claim and that of his squad’s quality, time will prove whether he is right.