Are Manchester United losing their bottle?

Manchester United hadn’t lost a game since 5th December until last week’s disappointing defeat to Real Madrid, ending their hopes of a treble.

They hadn’t not won two successive games (in all competitions) since the 20th November last year until this weekend’s FA Cup sixth round clash with Chelsea saw the Blues comeback from 2-0 down at half-time to steal a draw from the Premier League leaders in front of their home fans.

United dominated the first half, scoring two early goals which undoubtedly caught Chelsea half-asleep. However, the reigning champions of Europe fought back hard and in the last 20 minutes of the game, United looked rather nervous.

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his team will have been devastated by their knockout from the Champions League – especially by such a contentious decision from referee Cuneyt Cakir. Last week’s features were all statements from the players and staff that United would use the FA Cup clash this weekend to ‘bounce back’.

I wrote a piece last week, following the Madrid defeat, questioning how that result would affect United’s league form. I summarized that, whilst it was a huge disappointment for the club, the manager, the team, and the fans, they needn’t worry just yet.

I did, however, suggest that, should United lose to Chelsea and be knocked out of a second competition in the space of a week, it could have dire consequences and would undoubtedly have an impact on their confidence, morale and resolve.

Now, United didn’t lose to Chelsea and they weren’t knocked out of the cup – they now face a replay against the FA Cup holders – a fixture they could do without but such is life.

But, I wonder whether, after such an incredible run of form in all competitions, and the prospect of chasing a treble, 12 points clear at the top of the league, United might have forgotten what disappointment feels like – fans of other teams experience that crushing wincing ‘ouch’ of defeat game in game out, season after season.

United felt that exact emotion acutely in May as Sergio Aguero scored Manchester City’s winner at the Etihad – their 1-0 win over Sunderland suddenly overshadowed; the title lost.

All season long they’ve looked like champions – they’ve won good, bad and ugly but they’ve almost always won. They’ve lost just 3 games in the league out of 28 but there are still 10 games to go.

Are United losing their bottle? Roberto Mancini will certainly hope so but I can’t see the leaders crumbling. Not yet.

Next up they host Reading and whilst some will write the visitors off – they are relegation candidates, after all – they will give everything they’ve got to salvage something from the game; they have to – they’re fighting for survival.

Cast your mind back to December 1st when Reading very nearly caused an upset but in the end the game finished 4-3 to United. Sir Alex Ferguson and his team need a win – they must exorcize their daemons from the last week or they could find themselves in a spot of bother – any slip in the league and City will smell fear.

image: © Gordon Flood

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