Treble? Manchester United’s season could still collapse
Strong belief in emulating the 1999 treble must surely be gripping Old Trafford after Manchester United’s somewhat fortuitous 1-0 win at Chelsea in their Champions League quarter-final first leg, but Alex Ferguson and his troops will also be aware they are still a long way from crossing the finish line first in any competition.
With Wayne Rooney losing his appeal to have a two-game ban reduced and the ever-present threat of injuries crippling a squad well short of the talent of the 1999 crop, United will once again have to dig deep into their resources as the strength-sapping season reaches its climax.
United are seven points clear of Arsenal in the Premier League but what belies this seemingly big advantage in the run-in is the fact that Arsenal have a game in hand and only the league title to play for, which could be a telling factor when United visit the Emirates Stadium on May 1.
With Rooney out of the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City on April 16 there is no chance of him repeating the spectacular overhead kick which gave United a 2-1 win in their league fixture and Ferguson’s men may well find the going much more difficult against their fired-up neighbours, who have no other chance of silverware.
Rooney’s temporary loss could be a huge blow to United and the few who have jumped to his defence after the striker’s lack of anger management in United’s 4-2 win over West Ham at Upton Park could plausibly argue that a hefty fine might have been more appropriate punishment.
Here’s why: There is no excuse for what Rooney did but it would take some level of hypocrisy to say that swearing is not part of the game, on and off the pitch, just like horrific tackles such as the one that kept former Arsenal striker Eduardo sidelined for 18 months.
Birmingham defender Martin Taylor was handed a three-game ban after the late lunge which resulted in a triple leg fracture and nearly ended Eduardo’s career in Feb. 2008, when the Brazilian-born Croatia striker was at the peak of his powers.
Surely, putting those two offences almost in the same bracket will hardly send the right message to the fans?
But even with Rooney back in their ranks, United face a mammoth task to win the Champions League if they reach the final as they should given their first-leg lead over Chelsea and a probable last four clash with Schalke 04.
Facing either Barcelona or Real Madrid in the final at Wembley on May 28 will instantly bring back bitter memories for United, who were soundly beaten by Barcelona in the 2009 final in Rome and knocked out by Real Madrid in their last two Champions League meetings.
While United captain Nemanja Vidic will relish the prospect of meeting up with close friend Cristiano Ronaldo, he must at the same time be dreading the possibility of having to contain his former team mate — who scored 42 goals in all competitions for United when they won the Premier League and Champions League double in 2008.