Belfast Telegraph

Alan Green: Beware the sides of March

I have a close friend who is a Manchester United fanatic. Yes, really, I do. He will not accept that a 'Quintuple' is possible and neither did I until very recently.

Even Sir Alex is playing down such talk though I think that's because he doesn't want others to believe that what was once unthinkable is now achievable, something that would surely climax his astonishing career.

The Club World Cup and the Carling Cup are in the bag. So too, in my view, is the Premier League.

I had to laugh this week at the newspapers that talked up the significance of Chelsea and Liverpool winning on Tuesday night only to have their stance — 'the race is still on' — immediately deflated by United coming from behind to take three points at Newcastle.

The champions are seven points clear and have a game in hand. Hand them the trophy now and start next season early!

So that leaves the FA Cup and the Champions League.

Fulham today, at Craven Cottage, is not a ‘gimme'. Roy Hodgson's side play far better at home than they do away.

They were lamentable in the league clash at Old Trafford. I've seen more life-threatening puppy dogs than the London team that night.

But I cannot believe they will beat United.

No, the only obstacles on that path for Ferguson are Arsenal and Chelsea, particularly Arsenal.

It has, of course, been a poor season for the Gunners but redemption may be at hand. Fabregas, Rosicky and Walcott WILL all return from injury and, whatever criticism Wenger merits on his failure to strengthen the squad in January, Arsenal will be far better for it.

The Champions League? Now that is an interesting one.

I was very disappointed in Inter Milan the other week. They were all hype in terms of the media build up to the game and bluster in terms of what Jose Mourinho said.

No, United weren't remotely frightened looking into Inter eyes — far from it. I thought the holders actually produced the best performance of the four English sides. I struggle to remember when United last played better.

But that's the frustration. To leave Italy without scoring an away goal was a gross injustice.

They could have been two or three by half-time. The statisticians will tell you that drawing a first leg nil-nil away from home isn't the banana skin that it's held out to be.

I don't believe them. It makes me nervous. I hold Ibrahimovic in the same regard as Inzaghi: I've never understood why people rate him so highly.

But Inzaghi's goals on important stages have bitten me on the backside often enough to make me think I might be wrong.

What if Ibrahimovic sticks one in the net on Wednesday night? Even if he doesn't, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona will probably lie ahead.

No wonder Fergie wants the Champions League above all the rest.

Belfast Telegraph


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