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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

United keep eyes on prize as going gets tough

Posted: 16 Mar 2011 08:16 PM PDT

Alex Ferguson at the touchline during Manchester United's second leg round of 16 Champions League match against Olympique Marseille at Old Trafford in Manchester, March 15, 2011. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 17 — If Manchester United win a record 19th English League title this season, nobody could accuse them of doing it the easy way after another week of setbacks including a touchline ban for manager Alex Ferguson.

The 69-year-old United coach will be in the dugout for the last time for five matches when United play Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford on Saturday (1500 GMT) in a possible rehearsal of the FA Cup final.

United, attempting to repeat the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup treble they won in 1999, are likely to be without defenders Rio Ferdinand and possibly Nemanja Vidic, as well as John O'Shea and Rafael da Silva who were injured in Tuesday's 2-1 Champions League win over Olympique Marseille.

Darren Fletcher, Michael Owen, Park Ji-sung, Anderson and Jonny Evans were all unavailable for the game and might not be ready to step in on Saturday.

On the plus side, Javier Hernandez continued to establish himself as a key player with both goals.

"He has adjusted to the physical part very well and he is lasting 90 minutes now," Ferguson said.

"His pace and movement is helping us. He is a real handful. You see the first goal tonight — the boy's movement is fantastic."

Chasing pack

Victory for United against a Bolton side they could meet in the Cup Final at Wembley would keep them at least three points ahead of the chasing pack, led by second-placed Arsenal, who visit relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (1500).

The other games affecting the title run-in feature third-placed Manchester City at improving Chelsea (Sunday 1600) and fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur hosting relegation-threatened West Ham United (Saturday 1245).

Victory for the champions at Stamford Bridge would move them above City and into third place for the first time for three months, while Spurs need to beat the Hammers to maintain their hopes of finishing in the top four.

This week's events typify Manchester United's curious season. They set a club-record unbeaten run of 29 league matches before losing 2-1 to Wolves on February 5.

They have lost their last two league games to Chelsea and Liverpool and despite not playing particularly well have led the table since mid-December to stay on course to eclipse the record of 18 titles they share with Liverpool.

Despite the off-field ups and downs of their season, United continue to set the pace but they cannot let up for a moment.

Arsenal are breathing down their necks, three points behind with a game in hand after a dismal fortnight in which they have gone out of three competitions. — Reuters


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Distracted Chelsea ease into last eight

Posted: 16 Mar 2011 07:00 PM PDT

Chelsea's Didier Drogba (left) is challenged by FC Copenhagen's Oscar Wendt in their Champions League round of 16 second leg match at Stamford Bridge in London, March 16, 2011. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 17 — Chelsea, with one eye on Sunday's match against Manchester City, eased into the Champions League quarter-finals when a 0-0 draw with FC Copenhagen yesterday secured a commanding 2-0 aggregate win.

Such was Chelsea's confidence that the lead secured by Nicolas Anelka's two goals in the first leg would prove a safe enough cushion for coach Carlo Ancelotti to start with Fernando Torres, Michael Essien and Florent Malouda on the bench.

Torres came on for the last 23 minutes but after sending one shot fizzing past a post and another into the second tier of the stand, the Spaniard remained in search of his first goal after six matches for his new club.

It was all of little concern to Ancelotti, however, as his side stayed on course for the semi-finals for the sixth time in eight years after joining fellow Premier League sides Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United in Friday's draw.

Chelsea lacked intensity but always looked capable of upping the pace if they needed to, and they almost had to when Dame N'Doye cracked a free kick against a post in the visitors' only worthwhile goal attempt.

"The performance was good, we didn't want to take a risk, we had good control of the game defensively," Ancelotti told reporters.

"We had 24 shots and we could have been more precise up front but that's a small detail."

Chelsea set about their task with the zeal of a team who knew the tie was as good as over and with the quiet home fans in a less than full Stamford Bridge acquiescing, it was left to the noisy visiting supporters, chanting in perfect English, to provide the atmosphere.

When they did move out of second gear with some nicely built moves down the left, their finishing let them down as Frank Lampard, Yuri Zhirkov, Anelka and Didier Drogba all failed to take advantage of decent positions.

Pink shirts

The Danes, resplendent in bright pink shirts, were busy without ever looking dangerous, and they came nearest to a goal when N'Doye's free kick thudded against the post after 26 minutes.

Chelsea were livelier after the break, with Drogba shooting just wide and John Obi Mikel clipping the bar with a header as Copenhagen were pushed deeper.

But as the clock wound down it seemed that both sides were content with a goalless draw and the match duly petered out.

Copenhagen, 20 points clear at the top of their domestic league and the first Danish side to make the knockout stage of the Champions League, were happy with their night's work.

"Chelsea were the best team over two games," Copenhagen coach Stale Solbakken said. "We were good in seven of the eight games but let ourselves down at Parken after the winter break.

"We didn't really have the quality to hurt them tonight. The few times we were through our finishing was poor so we've probably reached the extent of our level.

"Maybe if N'Doye's free kick had gone in we'd have had a look at Chelsea's nerves but all in all I'm really proud of what we've done in this campaign."

Ancelotti's attention was on Sunday's game against City and he said Torres, Essien and Malouda would all start.

"I'd already decided the team to play against Manchester City and I wanted those players to be fresh," said the Italian.

"The feeling is good, all the players are fit and fresh and we are in a good moment." — Reuters


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