Sir Alex Ferguson was taking the long view yesterday, but with an eye to the immediate future, after Manchester United stumbled on the first step of their defence of the Champions League.
"It could have been better but it was not the worst result," he said of United's goalless home draw with Villarreal on Wednesday. "I was pleased with the team's performance. We are still a bit short in terms of our sharpness and clinical finishing and the games will bring that on."
United did show a marked improvement on their display when beaten at Anfield at the weekend, but only after Cristiano Ronaldo arrived from the bench at the hour mark did they play with the verve and intensity likely to be required to beat a Chelsea team brimming with confidence at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. That presents a problem for Ferguson as Ronaldo, returning from ankle surgery in July, had not played at all, even in the reserves, prior to Wednesday. "He did very well for his first game but it would be a big ask to start him on Sunday," Ferguson said.
The selection decision may depend on the fitness of Dimitar Berbatov, who injured a knee at Anfield. However, the Berbatov-Wayne Rooney-Carlos Tevez combination looked unbalanced at Anfield, with the Bulgarian isolated and the other two lost in wide positions.
Celtic's home draw against Aalborg on Wednesday means United's failure to win was not as damaging as it might have been. The holders and Villarreal remain favourites to progress from Group E, with United in Denmark next. "It's only the first game so we're not worried too much," said Park Ji-sung, who made an impressive and typically energetic return from injury. "We'll keep going, our confidence will grow and, hopefully, the goals will come. I think we're good enough to defend the trophy. Our squad is strong and we have a lot of experience from last season." Of his own display, Park added: "I'm quite satisfied with my performance, but there's still room for improvement."
United's French defender Patrice Evra said: "Defending the trophy is not extra pressure but it is a massive challenge. It's easy to win some titles when you play for United, but it's very hard to keep them. You have to work harder in training every day, but I am glad to have the challenge. You go to United for such challenges."