Thursday 22 February 2018

Barca clash true test of class - Fergie

Blackburn 1
Man United 1

Wayne Rooney wheels away to celebrate the goal that clinched the title for Manchester United at Ewood Park on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Wayne Rooney wheels away to celebrate the goal that clinched the title for Manchester United at Ewood Park on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Ogden

They have delivered a historic 19th league title, progressed to the last four of the FA Cup and face a Champions League final in 12 days' time, but Alex Ferguson concedes his Manchester United players must defeat Barcelona at Wembley on May 28 to "end the debate" over the true quality of his class of 2011.

Typically, the champagne corks had not even been popped before Ferguson's thoughts had shifted from Blackburn to Barcelona following the draw at Ewood Park which confirmed United's 12th Premier League title, to add to their seven old League championships, and secured sole ownership of English football's title-winning perch.

In the manner that has typified their season, United achieved their goal against Blackburn by performing as grinders rather than superstars, prising a point from another mediocre performance away from Old Trafford.

There has been no Cantona or Ronaldo brilliance this season, just the bloody-mindedness of Nemanja Vidic, the timeless experience of Edwin van der Sar and Ryan Giggs and the blossoming of Javier Hernandez, who was brought down to earn United the all-important penalty on Saturday.

Of Ferguson's dozen title-winning teams, this one faces the unenviable -- and probably unmerited -- distinction of being labelled the ugly duckling alongside the Treble winners, the Double winners and the European champions.

Yet with United having sealed their 59th piece of silverware, to move one ahead of Liverpool's haul of 58, Ferguson has challenged his players to silence their critics once and for all by making it 60 against Barcelona.

"Beating Barcelona would end all arguments about this team and that is their challenge at Wembley," Ferguson said.

"We are capable of doing very well in the final. There is nothing wrong with accepting challenges, we are good at that. It doesn't matter where they come from, you have to stand up to the mark."

Rather than master the art of winning this season, United have instead cracked the code of snaring points when they appear destined for none.

Ferguson has acknowledged that a return of five victories from 19 away games has weighed his team down, but Rio Ferdinand insists United deserve credit, despite their flaws.

"To win this league you have to be mentally strong," said Ferdinand.

"You have to go to hard grounds, play away from home and I think, this season more than any other that I've been involved in since I came here, we've dragged games back from the dead. That's the sign of a team with great resilience and character."

The absence of stardust, save for the surprise of Hernandez and the odd glimpse of the spectacular from Wayne Rooney, makes the title success all the more rewarding for Patrice Evra.

"It is a more collective effort and that's more satisfying," he said.

"When Cristiano Ronaldo was here he did a great job, but the team was playing for him and maybe people forget that. But since Carlito (Tevez) and Ronny have gone, United look more like a team."

The power of Ferguson's personality has been credited as driving United to the title, with the 69-year-old's determination propelling his players to success.

And Evra admits that an ultimatum from the Scot following the 1-0 defeat at Arsenal earlier this month provided the jolt required to take United over the line.

"The manager put really big pressure on us." Evra said. "I remember after the defeat at Arsenal he said, 'Do you really not want to win the 19th title? Are you crazy? Now you've got to win it. How many titles are you going to throw away?'

"Against Blackburn, it was very important to get the result, otherwise someone would have got the hairdryer."

A victory against Lionel Messi and co at Wembley would lift this crop onto the shoulders of giants such as Charlton and Best, Schmeichel and Keane.

But regardless of the outcome against Barca, Ferguson insists United's future is strong and that number 19 can lead to 20, 21 and beyond.

"All the teams we have had have risen to the challenge which, at this club, is to win things." Ferguson said.

"Some of the young players had their first trophy today (at Blackburn) -- Valencia, Gibson, Hernandez, Smalling -- and that gives them the impetus to move on and realise what being a Manchester United player involves." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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