Ferguson shrugs off talk of slump

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Ferguson shrugs off talk of slump

Post by sulehri on Tue Apr 29, 2008 12:05 pm

Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has dismissed talk of a slump ahead of their Champions League semi-final, second leg with Barcelona.

United host Barca on the back of an emotional defeat at rivals Chelsea.

"It does not matter what went before," said Ferguson. "The point is we have two games to win the title and are in the semi-final of the Champions League.

"We are faced with a big game with a place in the final at stake and we have a marvellous chance."

United's forward line failed to fire in the goalless first leg at the Nou Camp, although they blew the chance to take a grip on the tie when Cristiano Ronaldo missed an early penalty.

Ferguson's side lost at the same stage to AC Milan last year, and have won only one of four previous semi-finals in the competition under the Scot - against Juventus in 1999, the year they won it.

United also made a last-four exit against Borussia Dortmund (1997) and Bayer Leverkusen (2002).

But Ferguson feels they are in a better position to progress this time.

He added: "I remain optimistic because I believe we have come a long way since falling at this last-four hurdle in the past.

"We have got big-game players, ones who can win the match. If we look back at our other semi-finals, in some we have been unlucky and in others we should have done better.

"I think our performance in the first leg was probably our poorest in Europe this season. That's a worry as you look for reasons to explain why our attacking skills deserted us. But I remain confident that we can come out on top.

"I know we can play a lot better and will do so. We will not make the same mistakes.

"The players are well aware they underperformed in certain areas and I know they are determined to put things right.

"They won't let anyone down - I am sure of that."

Ferguson was criticised for leaving out key players in his side's crucial defeat at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but he defended his rotation policy.

He said: "There was no way I could play the same team in both games. I had to give us the best possible chance of reaching the final."

A United victory would have all but secured the Premier League title but Ferguson felt the Barcelona game took precedence, adding: "This club should have had more success in Europe so it was very easy for me to make those changes on Saturday."

The United boss is adamant his side remain on course for a domestic and European double despite failing to win any of their last three games.

It leaves them needing to beat West Ham and Wigan in their final two league games of the season to make sure of domestic success, but Ferguson scoffed at suggestions his side are in crisis.

He said sarcastically: "We have this semi-final, then a home game on Saturday (against West Ham) and a game against Wigan away - disaster!

"Am I worried? Not at all. We should be sitting here as champions of the league.

"I think decisions, bad decisions have gone against us. But it does not matter about those decisions now.

"When we signed on in August, it was to play 38 league matches and we need to win the last two to win the league. So be it.

"No matter what has happened, terrible performances or great performances, bad decisions, that's in the past.

"There was a lot of disappointment in the dressing room at the time at Chelsea, especially in the manner which we lost.

"But with the incentive of a big game you put that behind you quickly. The intensity of Monday's training session reflected that.

"It will be a well-balanced game, more open than it was at the Nou Camp and it could go either way, but I think we're going into the game with a marvellous chance.

"Barcelona will play the same system, in the same way, playing that passing carousel where you get dizzy. It's the same all the time and it won't change."

Barcelona also paid the price for resting players at the weekend - leaving out a host of stars including Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o as they lost 2-0 at Deportivo La Coruna - and have now gone five games without a win.

That defeat was also Barca's third successive game without scoring but their coach Frank Rijkaard is determined to put that right at Old Trafford.

"We have to play strong," Rijkaard stated. "To defend is not the correct course of action in this case.

"We have to play with aggression and by putting them under pressure. It is a difficult ground and a strong team, but I think that we can get through.

"Occasions like this are what footballers dream of. While I respect United we have to believe in ourselves.

"The key thing will be keeping organised and playing the way we want to play. We have to be brave. It will take a big effort to get through."

And Rijkaard feels Ronaldo's missed penalty in the first leg could prove crucial.

"If we go through, we will hear about the missed penalty so it will be all or nothing for Ronaldo," he said. "If we go through then the pressure will be on him."

Barca will have to end United's record run of 11 straight home wins in Champions League matches to reach Moscow, which would be the Spanish side's second final in three seasons.

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