MANCHESTER UNITED, according to Forbes magazine, is the world’s richest football club.
Those resources have enabled manager Sir Alex Ferguson to attract talent of the caliber of World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo, Bulgarian striker Dimitar Bebatov and Argentinian Carlos Tévez to Old Trafford.
Such is United’s strength in depth that Tevez usually plays only a cameo role from the substitutes’ bench.
But for all their flair and resources, you would have got long odds against the Red Devils winning all five of the competitions they entered this season.
Not so long ago, doing the “double” (league and FA Cup) was regarded as the pinnacle of achievement in English football.
Now, United are shooting for the stars as they go for the “quintuple.” And with the Club World Cup and Carling Cup already safely locked away in the trophy cabinet, it’s not just fantasy football.
United are through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League, where they will be expected to overcome Porto. They face Chelsea in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
A few weeks ago, they looked to have had the Barclays Premier League title wrapped up for the third successive year.
But two unexpected defeats, 4-1 at home to Liverpool followed by a 2-0 reverse at Fulham on Saturday, have breathed new life into the title race. It was the first time United had suffered back-to-back league defeats in 147 games.
Liverpool, who thrashed fading Aston Villa 5-0 at Anfield yesterday, are now just one point behind their arch rivals, although United do have a game in hand.
As if losing to Fulham was not bad enough, United had two players – Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney – sent-off, meaning the duo now face suspension.
"We'll need a lot of luck" – Fergie
Even with the size of their squad, United will need luck with both injuries and suspensions on the run-in if they are to keep their hopes of five alive.
Ferguson, for one, believes it’s a tall order. “The thing about cup football is you need to be the best but you also need a lot of luck and I think it’s asking too much for all the games to go your way,” he says.
“The one thing I will say is this squad is the best I have ever had. Every game we play, I feel confident.”
The two-week hiatus for international football has probably come at just the right time for United.
And the good news is that when the players return, their next game is at home to Villa on Sunday, April 5.
Only a few weeks ago, Martin O’Neill’s team looked a good bet to finish ahead of Arsenal and claim the fourth Champions League place for next season.
But it’s all gone horribly wrong since then. They haven’t won in their last eight league and cup matches and the lack of depth in their squad compared to United and Co. has been exposed.
Villa were no match for Liverpool at the weekend, crashing to a 5-0 defeat, and it will take all of O’Neill’s considerable motivational skills to coax a performance out of his tired troops at Old Trafford.
Fulham boss Roy Hodgson believes United will still come out on top, saying: “United are such a good team with so many good players, I still think they are favorites for the championship this year. But the last two defeats have given the teams chasing them that little bit more hope.”
Third-placed Chelsea missed the chance to join Liverpool on 64 points when they were beaten 1-0 by rapidly improving Tottenham.
It’s still a three-horse race but United have the pedigree and the British bookmakers still make them a 1-3 shot to finish top with Liverpool 11-4 and Chelsea 14-1.