True, it was only a few days ago that Park Ji Sung snatched the points from Wolves with a late and frankly undeserved winner, but no sooner had United reigned Chelsea’s lead into a couple of points, than a virus rifles through the training complex striking down a number of their already injury shorn squad.
Ferguson reckons he is now, ‘counting heads’ although how much of his increasingly hyperbolic injury updates end up being true is a different matter. For tomorrow’s derby trip to Eastland’s, the Reds could be without any number from Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves, Antonio Valencia, Ryan Giggs, Nani, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov.
The number and quality of player missing tomorrow will be a critical handicap as United gear up for arguably their biggest game of the season so far. For most fans and certainly the manager, clashes with Liverpool whet the appetite further, but there is a concerted desire to keep their foot on the heads of the ‘noisy neighbours’. The title may have been relinquished, but the Red Army slept well knowing they accounted for three last gasp wins over the Blue half last term, thus effectively ending City’s Champions League chase and prolonging their five decade silverware drought. There are no plans to relinquish the status of the city’s first team.
Of more significant importance though is the notion that a defeat at City will let Chelsea slip from their grasp once again. Another insipid away performance from the Londoners at Anfield has only heightened criticisms they have an identity crisis once they leave the comforts of Stamford Bridge. Their last four away fixtures have resulted in just four points, two goals and plenty of question marks. It is far from the bone crushing form on their own patch and has removed the air of invincibility that has surrounded Carlo Ancelotti’s men since the latter end of last season when they moved through the gears to claim the double.
Whilst their main competitors have also stumbled, the concept was that Chelsea had to lose the title, rather than anyone winning it from them, and although United are yet to get close to their own peak levels, it will be reassuring that Chelsea do appear to be more susceptible to dropping points than at first glance. All of this though only makes the apparent injury crisis more gauling due to its unfortunate timing, and if the nature of woes are as bad as Ferguson is apocalysing, it will be a tough ask to claim the full spoils against their closest enemies.
It has been creditable that United have bumbled through games of late given the talent which has been sidelined, and it is also a mitigating factor that they have been burdened so far by being unable to consistently field what is approaching their strongest first X1. With the Rooney issue and injuries perforating the season so far, it will be a matter of riding the storm into calmer waters, but with a perilous dash into neighbouring territories immediately on the horizon, United will hope not to suffer from any more travel sickness with Chelsea also wading against the current.