Top of the Barclays Premier League. Riding high in Europe. Close to an 18th FA Cup Final. Could this be a recreation of Manchester United’s 1998/1999 season, where they became the first side to win ‘The Treble’? That year they pipped Arsenal to the title by a point. It could yet become another unsuccessful campaign for the Gunners as United, despite not being at their stella best all season, have scraped wins from nowhere (remember Blackpool?)
Some would say that they have a harder run-in to the end of the season than their North-London counterparts, and with Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan and of course Barcelona still battling it out for the UEFA Champions League, the season can only get tougher for United. Not to mention a stern test at Wembley against their bitter rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup Semi-Final. Mancini’s men would love to hold the bragging rights in Manchester, and although they look unlikely to win the title, they can all but end United’s treble hopes with a victory at Wembley.
Do United have the squad to win the treble? Of course they do. You know you’ve got the right squad when you can leave out your top goal-scorer each week. Poor Dimitar Berbatov, what must he do to get a regular place in United’s starting line-up? Score 5 goals each game with his hands tied behind his back? Well it’s definitely not been a party trick at Old Trafford – in the form of Javier Hernandez (or is it Chicharito?), Wayne Rooney and Nani, United have the perfect strike-force. Hernandez scores. Rooney creates. Nani does both. Defensively, United have performed solidly.
Some may have forgotten that Rio Ferdinand hasn’t played since the first of February, and in Chris Smalling, United fans can be reassured that they have a replacement more than capable of filling in Ferdinand’s boots. However United’s defence looked shaky against Marseille on Tuesday night due to the loss of Nemanja Vidic through a calf injury. Vidic is the spine to the defence, and no one can argue that Smalling looked much more reassured and composed when playing next to Vidic than Wes Brown. Luckily for United, Vidic and Ferdinand should be fit for their quarter-final match, where they can revive their impenetrable partnership in-front of Edwin van der Sar.
In order for Manchester United to win the treble they must overcome a tough test. They can win the Premier League. They should perhaps win the FA Cup. But the Champions League? I don’t think United have what it takes to stop Messi and co. from causing chaos. Assuming that they meet the Catalan giants at some stage in the tournament, they will have to show discipline and keep the ball under pressure. If they can keep the ball for a period of time and wait for Barcelona to back off, then they can utilise Rooney to look for any exposures in the Catalans defence. If United defeat Barca, or are lucky enough to avoid them in the tournament, then of course they can lift the trophy for the fourth time.
As for the league, upcoming fixtures include Arsenal away and Chelsea at home. If they are ahead of the Gunners after their meeting at the Emirates in early May, then the league trophy should be heading to Old Trafford for a record 19th time. And the FA Cup? City pose a great threat to the Red Devils in what will be a cracking fixture, but if United can beat City then they will be firm favourites in the final.
Sir Alex Ferguson doesn’t look like he’s compromising one tournament for another, but is this at the risk of key players getting injured? Fortunately for United, Vidic and Ferdinand could soon return to patch the only traces of weakness in this exciting United squad. Ferguson, along with United fans, must pray that the likes of Rooney, Nani, Vidic and Hernandez can all remain uninjured for the remaining fixtures. Hernandez is already making a name for himself as the next Solskjaer, and like the Norwegain, the little pea will play a key role if United want to relive that triple-winning season.