With Manchester United hoping to edge closer to another league title this afternoon, Vincent Ralph turns the spotlight on their manager.
While the spotlight often falls on a player, there is no question upon whom it shines brightest this afternoon.
Following Manchester United’s 2-1 home defeat to Manchester City on Monday, the lead at the top of the Premier League is down to 12 points. And while that is still a sizeable and seemingly insurmountable gap, Ferguson must ensure his side get back to winning ways starting today at Stoke.
United’s next two matches are at the Britannia Stadium and Upton Park. And as we all know too well, rarely is an away game an easy one.
Six points from those two matches will see United hosting Aston Villa a week on Monday needing only four points to seal the title. But lose today and worries will turn into jitters.
And as last season showed – jitters are only one step away from a full-blown collapse.
With only one point from their last six league games, Stoke are not the formidable challenge they once were.
They are currently just three points clear of the relegation zone, and reports today suggest a heavy defeat at the hands of United may prompt the dismissal of Tony Pulis.
That seems unlikely, but in the face of such pressure clubs have been known to upset the odds. And the simple fact is that while Villa and Wigan are on the up, Stoke are slipping in the other direction.
Every point matters, and United will not find it easy to breach a defence marshalled by a man they once called their own in Ryan Shawcross.
Ferguson has some important decisions to make, most notably who he picks up front.
His attempt to play Robin van Persie out of his goal-drought hasn’t worked. And today seems the ideal game to start Javier Hernandez.
How he motivates his side in the face of last Monday’s disappointment could make all the difference in the next nine days.
In recent defeats to City and Chelsea, they have looked like a side running out of steam; which is no surprise given the effort they have put in as they look to regain the league title.
But Ferguson must now see them over the finish-line.
It is something he has done time and time again. But the side he picks today, and in the remaining games of the season, is crucial should he wish to claim yet another title.
It is not about picking his best players anymore; but about picking the ones who can get the required wins.
You can rest assured he would have been working harder than ever in the aftermath of City’s win.
This afternoon will show if those efforts have paid off.
What do the next few weeks hold for Manchester United? Will they quickly win the points needed for league success, or will it be a nervous end to the season?
image: © marcel sigg