As Manchester United writhed their way past Liverpool at Old Trafford on Sunday, many were of the view that Sir Alex Ferguson's side had reached the champions-elect phase.
Match-winner Patrice Evra, though, has gone not one, but two better, by declaring in the aftermath of the 2-1 win over Brendan Rodgers' team, that "everything is possible".
Not content with reclaiming their Premier League crown, the French full-back asserted that Sir Alex's class of 2012-13 had the capability to complete a second treble this year. With goals flying in at both ends, United have an air of unpredictability about them this campaign, but that did not stop us debating the merits of Evra's boast.
So, how do we get to the bottom of this? Goal.com looks at both sides of the argument.
|MAN UTD CAN WIN THE TREBLE
By David Lynch
Make no mistake; this is a Manchester United team with some real weaknesses.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have conceded a staggering 29 goals in 22 games this season, and are on course to post their worst goals-to-games defensive ratio since the inception of the Premier League. There are also questions over the Red Devils’ midfield mix, with Michael Carrick at times fighting a one-man battle against the opposition in the middle of the park.
And yet, in spite of all this, United currently sit seven points clear at the top of the league and having walked, nay, cruised into the last 16 of the Champions League.
If they are let down in any area of the pitch on a particular day, an ominously potent attack can bail them out with a flurry of goals
For that reason, Patrice Evra’s claim that the Old Trafford outfit could repeat the treble-winning feats of 1999-00 deserves serious consideration.
Sir Alex’s squad during that famous campaign was far from perfect, as is patently the case with his current set up – or in fact any team in history. But, in the form of Teddy Sheringham, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, the Scot had the potency to mask any minor flaws with the most important currency in football: goals.
Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck and Chicharito provide the modern equivalent to that attacking quadrumvirate, and they are just as deadly in front of goal as their predecessors. If their team-mates behind them can continue to provide the necessary support, then the Frenchman’s wish to emulate club legends may well come true.
Of course, to taste victory in three competitions you need a large slice of luck, particularly with two of those tournaments coming in straight knockout format. But, having plundered a number of last-minute winners already this term, the class of 2012-13 have shown they boast a canny knack of creating their own fortune when it matters most.
Given that the last time such an accomplishment was achieved it required two goals in the dying moments, United might just fancy their chances of a repeat.
|MAN UTD HAVE NO CHANCE OF THE TREBLE
By Jay Jaffa
As my esteemed colleague points out, Manchester United are on course to post their worst defensive record in their Premier League history and in a game that insists defences win championships, this would normally be no small concern for Sir Alex Ferguson.
Fortunately, in a time in which the league is on course to break the seasonal goalscoring record, United's defensive mishaps do not look set to cost them a 20th top-flight crown. Many are describing their seven-point lead over Manchester City as unassailable, which, while premature, does feel right. Their cross-town rivals have struggled to find the confidence and rhythm that helped complete one of the most impressive title chases seen on these shores last term and, barring a second consecutive late-season collapse, Sir Alex should get his hands on his 13th trophy.
United's increasing reliance on Van Persie may come back to haunt them as the campaign reaches its championship rounds
As United make their charge for the FA Cup and Champions League, Ferguson will undoubtedly press home the value of keeping a tight defensive shape. In contrast to the league, where a slip up is retrievable, mistakes in Europe can be costly – especially against Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid, a team that oozes goals.
United have conceded 14 goals at Old Trafford as the aging legs of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra struggle to stem the tide of bodies that seemingly waltz through a porous midfield. In Europe, away goals matter. United have already shipped more goals at home than 10 of their Premier League opponents – enough of a reason to fear for their hopes in the Champions League.
There is of course, the Robin van Persie factor. The Dutchman came to the Red Devils' rescue in their third round FA Cup match at West Ham, scoring a truly world-class goal in the dying moments. Roberto Mancini has constantly lamented his club's failure to bring Van Persie to the club, citing it as the difference in this year's title race and, though that looks likely to prove the case, one must wonder if he can continue to bail out his team-mates in cup competitions.
United are not a one-man team, but their increasing reliance on Van Persie may come back to haunt them as the campaign reaches its championship rounds.