With Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all winning the first legs of their last-16 ties in the Champions League, English clubs could be back in business after a miserable competition last year.
Ferguson not surprised if English clubs dominate Europe
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, would not be surprised if English clubs dominated the Champions League again this season.
After supplying three semi-finalists for three successive seasons, the Premier League endured a miserable time last term, when all four representatives bowed out before the last four stage.
With this year’s final taking place at Wembley, the pressure is on to deliver. And so far the omens look good.
Tottenham and Arsenal both recorded outstanding first leg wins against AC Milan and Barcelona in the last 16 last week, while Chelsea followed suit last night with a comfortable 2-0 success over Copenhagen.
Now Ferguson’s Manchester United go into battle with Marseille in the Stade Velodrome, with the Red Devils chief optimistic about the chances of English glory on May 28.
“I am not sure you could call it domination at the moment because we are only just into the last 16,” said Ferguson.
“But in the last four years English teams have been very powerful. The success rate for getting through to the latter stages is very good and it could happen again.
“The Premier League is very tough, with a lot of talented players. That has created a level over the last seven or eight years that is very difficult to match.”
United’s chances of success tonight are not helped by the absence of seven senior players though.
Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs are among that number, which will mean a central defensive berth for Chris Smalling and a wide role for Wayne Rooney as Ferguson sticks to a preference for a lone striker in European games.
Giggs’ absence means Paul Scholes will assume the mantel of old stager, with Ferguson insisting the 36-year-old is worthy of a new contract, even if the player himself is not entirely convinced.
“I am more than hopeful about Paul signing another contract,” said Ferguson. “I think he should. His fitness isn’t in question. I think Paul feels he has to play all the games.
“It is not a bad thing to be that way but at his age, that is impossible. But he can still play a big part for Manchester United, this season and next.”
Tonight’s game marks the start of an intense period for United. Between the first and second legs they must tackle Wigan, Chelsea and Liverpool away from home in successive games before entertaining either Arsenal or Leyton Orient in the FA Cup on March 12.
“We have an important few weeks coming, there is no question about that,” said Ferguson. “We are just starting four away games on the run, which is a great challenge for us.
“They are all fantastic matches but it is a time we should enjoy. They are big games and in that situation, the players don’t let us down often.”