Live or die: Manchester United vs Chelsea
Manchester United is about to play the most important game of the season on Sunday against Chelsea FC and a defeat could dent their title hopes and even Champions League qualification.
United have been in dire form recently, slumping to defeats at the hands of Middlesbrough and Lille, causing matters off the field to hit the back pages as much as matters on the field.
Earlier this week, Red Devils skipper Roy Keane blasted his team-mates and claim players such as Alan Smith, Darren Fletcher and John O'Shea aren't fit enough to wear the United shirt.
However, the MUTV interview with the Irishman was not aired to the public but Sir Alex Ferguson will reportedly show the interview tomorrow afternoon in the United dressing room as motivation.
Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho insists motivation is not a problem for Manchester United and also insists United will bounce back. He said: "If a team is not used to losing, it's not easy to live or play when you do lose. Sunday is the best game for them. They don't need motivation or commitment.
"They will be speaking about this game as the one to bring them back to the good level. So it won't be easy for us.
"But while these are the most difficult matches to play, they are the easiest matches to prepare for because I don't need to motivate the players."
Sir Alex Ferguson is likening the fixture to the game his side ended Arsenal's unbeaten run of what would have been 50 Premiership games. "We stopped Arsenal on 49 games, we made sure of that. There are some similarities, but I think Chelsea are made of sterner stuff. They are a very powerful team and committed to defending. It’s not going to be easy to beat them, but I think we can. We need to start well and make them think for a bit. I know we have the ability to do it.
"If we get a good start and the crowd really get going then they’re a formidable lot our lads. I certainly don’t think they will let the players down."
Ryan Giggs, Roy Keane, Gabriel Heinze, Quinton Fortune, Louis Saha and Gary Neville are all noticeable absentees while Chelsea seem to be at full strength for Sunday's encounter.
Alex Ferguson demands fans support
Sir Alex Ferguson is demanding disgruntled Manchester United fans to get behind his players as they bid to bounce back from back-to-back defeats at the hands of Middlesbrough and Lille when Chelsea visit Old Trafford.
The Red Devils, who are without the likes of outspoken captain Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Gabriel Heinze because of injury, have come in for much criticism in the last few weeks which have seen them win just one of their last five matches in all competitions.
And Ferguson fears that negativity from the United faithful could bring untold damage to his team as they bid to get their season back on track and make inroads into Chelsea's 13-point advantage over them at the top of the table.
Van Nistelrooy tries to explain crisis
Van Nistelrooy saw the trudge over to the corner of the Stade de France, where the Manchester United fans who had bothered to stay to the end were standing, a few claps and a resigned shrug of the shoulders. Some United supporters responded with V-signs.
Ruud would not forget his short time as captain of Man. United and he might have wondered what - when his agent, Roger Linse, appears so keen to dangle his name in front of Real Madrid and Barcelona - he was doing out there at all.
"Is this our most difficult time?" he said when asked if he had known a crisis like this. "Yes, it must be. When I came here 4½ years ago, we were unbeatable but I have committed myself to the club and now, in the bad times, I want to give it my all and get Manchester United back to where I want to see them. I am not off."
The great Dutchman might have a long wait for United to regain this lost summit. When he scored the winner against Benfica - one of only two goals United have managed in this campaign - it was his 38th in 41 starts. It is an astonishing strike-rate, but what is more surprising is that only once have these goals brought him anywhere near a European Cup.
It seems unlikely he will be returning to Paris in May for the final unless United can address an abysmal run of away results. In 2½ seasons they have played 10 away games in Europe, of which two have been won - against Rangers and Panathinaikos, the last in November 2003. In the last five matches they have not managed so much as a goal, and now they are stumbling within the walls of their own fortress. Should they fail to beat Villarreal at Old Trafford later this month, there is a real possibility that a side who have failed even to make the quarter-finals of the European Cup in the past two seasons will not clear the group stages for the first time since 1994.
With United's aircraft due to depart Charles de Gaulle Airport on Wednesday night, Van Nistelrooy might not have had time to list all the reasons why the club have declined so sharply. However, he did his best.
"We are not playing well, we have difficulties keeping the ball. It is not fluent when the ball goes from player to player and we don't have fluent attacks. We don't tend to play in the opponents' half, with good crosses coming in and winning the second ball. We don't put teams under pressure and our confidence seems to be down."
Specifically, Van Nistelrooy thought the service that once fuelled his shooting had begun to run very dry indeed. "Things are different now. I remember games when I was having four or five chances, constant service, which is great. I enjoy that but now it is very different and I have to give my all in this situation."
It is quite a list for United's management to correct before the champions arrive at Old Trafford on Sunday. They might yet attack Chelsea with all the edge they displayed when Arsenal came to Manchester last October in search of their 50th Premiership match without defeat. They would probably settle now for a stalemate and Van Nistelrooy did not pretend the two teams would be meeting on equal terms.
"When you compare our squad with Chelsea's in terms of numbers, that says it all. Whether they play team one or team two, they are both full of internationals who have been at World Cups. You can't compare them with any other team."
Lille wins over Manchester United 1-0
Lille got an historical victory over Man. United when Acimovic ran onto a pass from Gregory Tafforeau that split United's defense, took a touch to control the ball and struck it into the roof of the net. Lille has five points from three matches in Group D, the same as United. Villarreal, which won 1-0 at Benfica, leads the group with six points.
"We deserved the win in terms of the way we played and the spirit we showed," said Lille coach Claude Puel. "We've been on a learning curve in the Champions League. We had to play at our best level tonight, and we did that."
Tafforeau nearly added a second-half goal for Lille in the 54th, but United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar tipped his curling free kick over the crossbar.
Ruud van Nistelrooy had the best chance for United when his 58th-minute header rebounded off the crossbar and dropped close to the goalline.
"It was a difficult game, whoever scored first ... it would be hard for the other team to come back," United coach Alex Ferguson said. "The pitch was poor, it's hard to pass on it. The ball jumped around a lot."
Ferguson felt his team "didn't deserve to lose" and dismissed talk of a confidence crisis in the team following a 4-1 loss to Middlesbrough last weekend.
"I think the pitch was more of a problem than the confidence," he said. "We just have to regroup and not feel sorry for ourselves."
The match was played at Stade de France because Lille's temporary stadium at Villeneuve d'Ascq was considered too small.
Manchester Utd. with new captain against Lille.
Dutch player Ruud van Nistelrooy will captain Manchester United for the first time on Wednesday night in their Champions League game against Lille. The choice has been a polemic topic ever since Paul Scholes was sent off in the first meeting with the French side a fortnight ago.
With Scholes suspended and Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville all injured it had been suggested that out-of-form Rio Ferdinand could take over the captain's armband - even though it is an honour he has not been given by Sir Alex Ferguson since his much-publicised contract dispute erupted at the back end of last season.
However, even though Ferdinand will play at the Stade de France, Ferguson will make Dutch international striker Van Nistelrooy his captain, overlooking the obvious claims of compatriot Edwin van der Sar, who captains the Holland striker at international level.
Ferguson admits United flawful Defence
The manager was obviously disappointed with the result but also concerned about the defensive performance, especially with an important trip to Lille looming on the midweek horizon.
"We start with the second minute when we allowed one of their players to receive the ball and move forward without one challenge from 25 yards. When you're away from home, you hope to start with a tight, balanced midfield and see how the first few minutes go until you get your own tempo and rhythm. But we were on the back foot right away and we never recovered from it. The second and third goals were terrible goals to lose at our level. We can't afford to do that." Ferguson said.
Middlesbrough 4 - 1 Manchester Utd.
Gaizka Mendieta scored two goals to lead Middlesbrough over Manchester United, 4-1, at The Riverside.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Yakubu Ayegbeni also found the back of the net for Middlesbrough, which won for just the second time in six tries at home this season.
Cristiano Ronaldo netted the sole goal for Manchester United, which suffered is first road loss of the campaign.
Mendieta opened up the scoring right away for Boro in the second minute when he sent the ball though the hands of goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.
"The start didn't help us," said United boss Sir Alex Ferguson. "From that moment on, we chased it, and when you chase it, you are susceptible to the counterattack which we never handled that well."
Hasselbaink pushed the advantage to 2-0 in the 25 minute when United failed to clear the ball and Yakubu made it a 3-0 affair at the intermission courtesy of a penalty shot.
In the 78th minute, Mendieta netted the final Boro goal on an assist from Yakubu before Ronaldo recorded a meaningless tally in the final minute.
"The great thing about our club is that we have to bounce back," said Ferguson. "There's a lot expected of us. There's a great fascination about how we play every Saturday and what the result is. Today is another page in the history of Manchester United. Middlesbrough has cuffed us 4-1 and we have to get over that because on Wednesday night we have a really important match in Europe."
Capping of the English Premier League on Saturday: First-place Chelsea pushed its unbeaten streak to 11 games after getting by Blackburn, 4-2; Wigan shut out Fulham, 1-0; Tottenham and Arsenal battled to a 1-1 draw in the North London derby; Everton blanked Birmingham, 1-0; Charlton failed to build on its Carling Cup victory with a 1-0 loss to Bolton; Liverpool edged out West Ham, 2-0; Portsmouth cruised past Sunderland, 4-1.