Manchester United have stumbled wildly like a drunk in high winds at times this season. In a manner that suggested they were not quite up to what they seem now likely to achieve. The incredible drubbing at the hands of West Ham in the league cup? Long forgotten now, as United have vanquished almost all comers and besides a couple of slips here and there they have looked composed and full of belief.
It could, of course, all go completely awry and they end up runners up in both major competitions they contest. All possibilities must be accounted for and United have put themselves in the position now where the league is theirs to lose. They have given themselves a stern advantage in Europe with a polished performance that will have interested a certain couple of Spanish based managers greatly.
They actually look pretty good again now, though. Their play is superior to most teams they encounter and in the strange match that ensued when they faced their city rivals recently, they played quite well in the first half for a time and then were in and out of the match until an uncharacteristic error from Edwin Van Der Sar gave City's Yaya Toure the chance to rob a flustered United midfield and stride on to score.
It was a loss that has not affected United's corresponding trophy aspirations. Continuing winning form in the league and the Champions League as well has meant they seem as imposing as ever and it will be a surprise now if they lose to Arsenal this weekend. Schalke need to improve drastically in a week, though of course, Inter Milan are not a bad side really, and everyone knows what happened when Schalke visited them.
The verbal strutting from correspondents and fans alike that has been going on is amusing really, as anything could happen in the next few days that could influence next weeks second leg. Schalke could remember how to play, maybe, and there is no reason they won't. Ralf Rangnick is no run of the mill manager—he will be plotting the downfall of United and obviously the tie is never over till the second game has gone by.
Sir Alex Ferguson is no run-of-the-miller either, in saying that, and his side were far slicker than the disrupted Schalke side that Ragnick has inherited from Felix Magath. They did not, however, look too disrupted as they destroyed Inter Milan in the last round, though.
Aside from the Champions League, the story is all about the bid for title No.19, the one that will finally take United past Liverpool. The one that will enrage respectable Liverpudlians everywhere as well as a few crazy ones too. Manchester United can finally say they have surpassed Liverpool in England.
The majestic shadow of Liverpool's five European cups could be shortened this season as well, though it would still be two seasons to surpass that even if this years' campaign is a success, and considering the calibre of the opponents in the corresponding semi final, it could be a bridge too far for a United side that have been made to look rather ordinary on occasion.
Very few occasions mind you, but still, sometimes the old fear has crept into the players eyes, and they have stuttered to the whistle as shadows of themselves.
Liverpool, as an aside, have recently rediscovered their mojo and could well contest such trophies in the coming years again, with chances to change the record books again.
In saying that, not many other team has consistently improved to this point toward a solid league position as much as United have. Their football has been back to its slick best at times again, even in the FA Cup semi final loss to Manchester City one of the moves they played in the first half was an intricate little passing demonstration of the highest order, quite literally floating through the City defense were the United three of Scholes, Carrick and Park to set up Berbatov for a chance.
Could United play such football at the times it will need to be played in the coming weeks? Can they really make the Champions League final and negotiate the final few league matches to ensure their league record is claimed?
Can they see out a possibly treacherous series of league encounters?
Of course, they are in excellent form and have demonstrated recently home and away their superiority over Chelsea. Though the Spanish sides they will face if they close out the tie with Schalke are a cut above the German side, who have had a terribly inconsistent Bundesliga season.
However, Barcelona by no means blew away Arsenal in the end—they benefited from a harsh refereeing decision and closed out a tricky tie. Not to mention Real Madrid, who are no slouches in the European stakes by any stretch of the imagination.
There could be a sensational reunion on the cards if certain events transpire in the next few days. One that could potentially be quite cutting for Manchester United supporters who still adore a certain Portuguese player.
It would almost be a fairy tale finale if this particular final eventuates, Cristiano Ronaldo against the very manager and club that carefully managed his talents over his rise to prominence. Of course, Real could just be beaten by Barcelona and Gerard Pique score a bicycle winner, which would certainly grate a few of the United faithful as well, titter.
On to the record, though, United must stride forward with their heads high and their hearts emboldened, victory or death, yah yah yah, and several other fittingly obscene chants and cries.
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