If you could pick your ideal opponents after Wednesday night’s heartache, you wouldn’t choose Manchester United. That’s who Fulham have to face in a televised FA Cup quarter final tomorrow. Even though Newcastle gave them more of a game than many would have expected in midweek, they had the quality to pretty much seal the league title at St. James’ Park.
In the aftermath of United’s League Cup triumph at the weekend, Ferguson said his priorities would be the Premier League and the Champions’ League. That’s understandable. Defending the Champions’ League would be a tremendous achievement and make him undisputedly one of the best British managers the game has ever seen – if he isn’t already. It’s tough to come to the realisation that our best chance might be when Fergie rests a few of his first-choice stars but we’re not close to being able to compete with the strongest United line-up even with the fine job that Hodgson’s done of late.
The defeat against Hull (which still rankles) showed that for all the investment in our forward line – and they’ll be plenty of people willing to report Bobby Zamora to trading standards because of his suspect finishing – we still remain a little toothless up front. I mentioned in the report from Wednesday night that, for me, the most troubling thing was AJ’s disappointing finishing and we can only hope that he’s back to something like his predatory best on Saturday night. He’ll need to be.
You could see (even as we were kicking the other way) that both Clint and Simon Davies were tiring as the much went on. Dempsey must be due for a rest soon but the question is can we live without him against the champions? If our season is to tail off, then we need the American for it’s biggest game and perhaps we could bring in a replacement for Blackburn. But those three points might be just as crucial. Who’d be a manager, eh?
The midfield’s going to have to put in a real shift if we’re to deny the likes of Ronaldo and Nani/Giggs (or whoever lines up on the opposite flank) time on the ball. Shutting down the space to Paul Scholes, whether he’s at a corner or not, should be the lesson we learnt from our Old Trafford drubbing a few weeks back. Danny Murphy’s passing went to pot in the second half against Hull – and, as we’ve said before – he’s the fulcrum around which our current midfield is built.
After Wednesday, I’m not feeling too optimistic but we could spring a surprise I suppose … couldn’t we?