Is it any coincidence that Manchester City’s title challenge was dealt a huge blow at Southampton, just a few hours after Sir Alex Ferguson promised TV viewers that his side would not throw away points like they did in the title run-in last year against Wigan and Everton?
When Fergie told BBC interviewer Dan Walker “That mind games thing is definitely overrated. It’s a bit of a myth” I must admit I thought the Boss meant what he said. But after City self-destructed with a defensive horror show to crash 3-1 at St Mary’s, I’m not so sure.
There was certainly no doubt Sir Alex believes the 1-0 defeat at Wigan and the 4-4 draw against Everton last April were the fatal blows to United’s quest for their 20th League title when he declared: “We didn’t anticipate the unexpected at Wigan. That was a mistake. And when we played at Everton at home, 4-2 up with seven minutes to go, we didn’t anticipate a reaction from Everton coming back at us that way. That won’t happen this year.”
And just in case anyone missed what he said Fergie repeated his promise that “It won’t happen again – trust me!”
Whether or not this was a statement designed to put pressure on the champions, City crumbled at Southampton and it is hard to believe that any player does not listen to pre-match comments.
Roberto Mancini was surely playing mind games when he confidently announced yesterday that it will be “easy” for his side to bridge the nine-point gap behind United at the top. “If we can recover eight points in six games, I think to recover nine points in 13 games will be easy,” announced the Italian. But I am sure he will feel a lot less confident should City trail by 12 points should United beat Everton on Sunday. That would mean a 12 point lead with 12 to play.
The challenge for United is complicated by the showdown with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie that follows on Wednesday. Hence Fergie’s admission: “I’ve got to make sure I pick the right team. That’s the biggest challenge. We know their obvious strengths. The atmosphere will be absolutely fantastic. They don’t lose many games at the Bernabeu.”
But United have a formidable squad, arguably their strongest ever in Sir Alex’s 26 year dynasty at Old Trafford, and the painful memory of how the title slipped from their grasp in the corresponding match last season will be all the motivation needed this time round. Not to mention the manager has given his word that United will not repeat last season’s mistakes.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MANCHESTER UNITED AND ARSENAL
Asked by Dan Walker if he would feel the pressure if United went five years without winning a trophy, Sir Alex Ferguson sounded shocked at the suggestion. “It wouldn’t happen. Simple as that. No chance.” No wonder Arsenal’s most biased fan Piers Morgan announced on Twitter: “Watching Sir Alex on Football Focus. Wish he was Arsenal manager. There, I’ve said it.” Sir Alex on Football Focus