Manchester United were controversially dumped out of the Champions League on Tuesday night at the hands of Real Madrid but with an FA Cup quarter-final clash against Chelsea on the horizon and the Premier League title within their sights, they can’t afford to wallow in self-pity.
The 2-1 home defeat put an end to murmurs around the club of securing a historic treble-winning season but even a ‘distraught’ Sir Alex Ferguson will know that the double is still well and truly within their grasp and will make sure that his players don’t lose sight of that opportunity at this crucial stage of the season.
United must shrug off defeat
United don’t have the luxury of spending time nursing their wounds or perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise. With another huge game just around the corner in which a semi-final berth hangs in the balance, the Red Devils will be forced to look ahead instead of dwelling over their misfortune.
At the start of the season, the prospect of being in the position they find themselves in at this stage would have been an inviting one for the Manchester outfit. After the final-day (or final seconds) heartbreak they suffered in the league last season, their priority this time around was always to win back their Premier League crown from local rivals Manchester City.
When put into perspective, a 12 point lead with only 10 games left to play is more than they could have hoped for while a good run in the FA Cup comes as a welcome bonus. The fact is, this United side is not yet the finished article. They still lack a quality winger who can dribble past full-backs consistently, a goal-scoring midfielder and a top central midfield partner for the consistently reliable Michael Carrick.
Sir Alex will have to look forward
Despite their obvious shortcomings, the manner in which they have dominated England’s top flight this season is truly astounding especially when you consider their defensive woes during the first half of it. Mid-way through the campaign, United’s defense had conceded the most goals among the clubs in the top half of the table despite leading the pack. However, their new found resilience at the back has now elevated their defense to being the third best in the league behind Manchester City and Chelsea.
There are more than just a few positives the Mancunians can derive from their performance against Madrid. Jose Mourinho so often recognized as the ultimate tactician was outsmarted by Sir Alex over the course of the two legs and the Scot should be full of confidence when pitting his wits against Rafa Benitez on Sunday.
A performance like that against the La Liga champions should give the whole team the confidence and belief to pull off a domestic double. The contributions from players who haven’t featured regularly for the side during this term like Ryan Giggs, Nani and Danny Welbeck stands testament to the strength and depth of United’s squad.
The exclusions of the talismanic Wayne Rooney and weekend hat-trick hero Shinji Kagawa just goes to show the options Ferguson has at his disposal. Giggs led by example against Madrid and was a calming influence on the rest of the players on the pitch but it’s now upto him and the other experienced players to help the younger ones shrug off the disappointment and see the bigger picture.
Older players must rally their teammates
Winning the league in itself would deem this season a successful one but after only securing the Community Shield during their last term, completing the double this time around would make this an extremely successful campaign for the club and one that they can be most proud of.
The players should be focused on the prospect of bringing another couple of major trophies to Old Trafford; a task that should be significantly less complicated now that they won’t have the distraction of their European excursions to contend with and can give their domestic exploits their undivided attention.
United usually respond
Furthermore, their disheartening and fairly early elimination from the Champions League is likely to spur them on for next year’s competition. The manner in which they lost the league to City on goal difference last season may have been a harsh lesson learnt at the time but there’s no doubt that the memory of it has played a huge role in their campaign this time around. Similarly, their painful defeat to Madrid may facilitate a far more successful run in European football’s elite club competition next season.Chelsea should be wary of the fact that the current league leaders have rarely lost two consecutive games during Ferguson’s tenure. The United fans shouldn’t be too worried about any sort of detrimental effect Tuesday night’s defeat should have on their side because if there’s one thing you can always count on seeing from Sir Alex’s team, it’s a response.
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