United daring to dream of treble
ALEX FERGUSON has urged his Manchester United players to step on the gas in their quest for the treble.
Twelve points clear in the Premier League, and back home from Madrid with an encouraging draw from their Champions League first-leg meeting with Real, United's attentions switch to the FA Cup when they entertain Reading tonight.
With a quarter-final encounter against either Chelsea – and what a mouthwatering thought Ferguson facing his old rival Rafael Benitez is – or Middlesbrough already booked for the winners, the prospect of a repeat of that historic 1999 campaign is beginning to get clearer.
And whilst in public Ferguson is sticking to the mantra of one game at a game, behind closed doors he has left his players in no doubt what they are capable of.
"The manager has stressed that he expects to go to the end in all three competitions," said defender Chris Smalling.
"The FA Cup is notoriously unpredictable. Luton reached the fifth round this year, which shows that anything can happen so there is no point looking too far ahead.
"But our home form has been good and another victory can give us the impetus to kick on and get to another final."
United's last final appearance was in 2007, the first to be played at the new Wembley, when they were beaten in extra time by Chelsea.
It was one of a series of unpleasant recent experiences for the Red Devils in a competition they have won a record 11 times.
Ferguson has never forgotten how his side dominated Arsenal in 2005 but still got beaten in a penalty shoot-out, whilst Wembley appearances for semi-finals against Everton in 2009 and Manchester City two years later both ended in disappointment.
It means they have not won the competition since defeating Championship outfit Millwall in 2004, which came as a surprise to Smalling.
"I was quite shocked at how long it has been since United won the FA Cup," said Smalling.
"It is a massive competition and one we all look forward to.
"Before we played West Ham in the third round, the manager stressed how much we wanted to win this tournament.
"There are quite a lot of lads who haven't won it despite being here for quite a while."
In addition to Smalling, 14-goal striker Javier Hernandez is a likely starter.
Wide-men Ashley Young and Nani will also hope to be involved, whilst Tom Cleverley and Anderson should be champing at the bit after also missing out on a starting berth at the Bernabeu.