Alex Ferguson insisted that the way Manchester United responded to a ferocious first-half assault by Newcastle on Tuesday night gave him confidence his players would not falter in the Premier League's final furlong.
Having lost the FA Cup semi-final to Manchester City on Saturday, United's wholly unconvincing opening 45 minutes at St James' Park suggested they might suddenly be vulnerable. However, although they failed to break through as the game finished 0-0, Ferguson took the second-half display as a reassurance of sorts.
"I am confident we will be fine now as Newcastle was a hard one to get over," the Manchester United manager said. "With five games to go we are in a better position than we were on Saturday. You have to look at the games we have against Arsenal and Chelsea next month.
"We had a hard, tiring pitch at Wembley but we didn't show any signs of fatigue; we were energetic and the players thrived on the challenge; which is good coming at this stage of the season."
It is this stage of the season where United are at their steeliest. As Arsene Wenger and Carlo Ancelotti reassess what Arsenal and Chelsea might have to do to catch the leaders, it is almost unheard of for Ferguson's sides to collapse in their last five games.
Since regaining the championship from the Chelsea of Jose Mourinho four years ago, Manchester United have dropped an average of three points in their final five fixtures and lost just once -- to Chelsea in 2008. In their last two title run-ins in 2009 and 2010, they have dropped just two points in each of their final five matches.
That is why Michael Carrick's statement that what Chelsea and Arsenal did in the last month of the season was irrelevant held water. Not since 2006, when United won only two of their final five matches in a campaign that was being won at a canter by Chelsea, have Ferguson's teams approached the kind of seizure their rivals require now. In 2001, they dropped 10 points but had long since won the title.
"We don't want to be looking at other results too much, we just want to be winning games ourselves," said the midfielder after an indifferent return to his native Tyneside. "We are still in a good position, we just roll on. A draw feels like two points dropped but we will have to take it and move on."
As Ferguson looks to the future, Atletico Madrid have indicated they are prepared to let one of his principal targets -- David de Gea -- leave. Their chief executive, Miguel Marin, has admitted that unless they can persuade the 20-year-old goalkeeper to sign a lucrative new contract they will allow him to be sold for a fee of around £17m.
"We have met with him to negotiate a deal on two occasions," said Marin. "He has a contract with Atletico for three more seasons so it is necessary to review it and revise his salary, which is well below his current performance levels. But at the end of the season there will only be one question for De Gea; whether to renew the contract or to leave." (© Independent News Service)