MANCHESTER - Alarm bells rang for
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson on Tuesday as he sought
to solve a selection puzzle that must stop a midweek game
against German opponents ruining their domestic title bid again.
United host Chelsea on Sunday in a match that will go a long
way to deciding who will be crowned Premier League champions but
first they need to ensure they reach the Champions League Final
by not letting Schalke 04 get back into their semi-final.
Last year United handed the advantage to eventual English
champions Chelsea by losing 2-1 to their rivals at Old Trafford,
just days after facing Bayern Munich in the first leg of a
Champions League quarter-final they went on to lose.
Having won last week's first leg in Germany 2-0, it would be
a major shock if United did not reach the May 28 European final
at Wembley and Ferguson should be able to rest several players
to keep them fresh.
"If you look at the experience of last year where we lost
the league was after a (midweek) game against Bayern. The team
were very tired against Chelsea in that next game," Ferguson
told a news conference.
"That has to have a bearing on my team selection. Two
massive games, both as important as the other. There will be
some changes, hopefully I've a nucleus of a team that is still
good enough to win the match."
United are three points clear in the Premier League and
Chelsea would go top on goal difference with victory this week,
making it unsurprising that fans are focusing on that match
rather than the Champions League game they feel is in the bag.
"That's the sort of optimism supporters have got, we don't
share that because we feel we've got a lot of work to do
tomorrow," Ferguson said.
"I hope Manchester United don't regard it as a formality
tomorrow. I think our work ethic will be very high."
Ferguson has said he will pick a strong defence with changes
likely to come in the attacking positions, presenting chances
for strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Owen and midfielder
Darren Fletcher who has missed two months with a virus.
He pointed to the fact that all four Champions League
semi-finalists, including Real Madrid and Barcelona, lost
domestic matches at the weekend as a reason for squad rotation.
"There are certain statistics that tell you they do take it
out of you the European games, which is why Sunday's game
against Chelsea is a massive game," he said.
"I have to pick the right team tomorrow in order to have the
same kind of freshness in Sunday's match."
Ferguson said he expected Schalke to go on the attack, as
they had no other choice, but can be comforted by United's tight
defence which has let in only three goals in this year's
"We seem to have better concentration levels at European
games because it's not regular football," the Scot said.
"The mundane football of the Premier League is incessant
tribalism almost, that you're playing either a London team...
or Liverpool teams, it creates that incredible competitive edge.
But as you go to Europe it's a different type of football,
different ways of playing."
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