Football: Cup no relegation issue for Fergie

Nick Townsend says Wembley remains a coveted goal for high flyers

ALEX FERGUSON refuses to contemplate sacrificing a date at Wembley to further his team's chances of the ultimate prize that has so far eluded him, the Champions' League. Manchester United meet Chelsea today at Old Trafford in their FA Cup quarter-final, the first of four games in 11 days, culminating in the return leg of their quarter-final tie with Internazionale.

Last season, he fielded a weakened team against Barnsley in the fifth round and saw his charges eliminated 3-2 at Oakwell after being held to a 1-1 draw at home, but his men have already demonstrated this season against Liverpool - whom they defeated with late goals by Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - that the Cup has not been relegated to a poor third in their priorities. "Against Barnsley last year, we took a risk," Ferguson admitted. "On Sunday, we will be putting out a side to win. Going to Wembley is a big, big thing for players like Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist. They would hate to go through their career without going there."

However, Ferguson will be forced to make defensive changes today from the team who eclipsed Inter 2-0. Stam is suspended and Ronny Johnsen, who was injured and substituted at half-time on Wednesday, is unlikely to return until the second leg at the earliest. Their places are likely to be filled by two out of Henning Berg, Gary Neville and Wes Brown.

It is at such times that Ferguson can depend on the impressive pool of players that others can merely covet and this explains why he exudes confidence, tempered with caution, when reflecting on United's prospects in Milan. "We've got them on the back foot," he insisted. "We are capable of better performances than we showed on Wednesday, but not necessarily a better result. Now we've got to show our courage in the atmosphere of the San Siro. We'll be looking for players to show a certain maturity. People like Keane, Stam, Schmeichel and Irwin are going to be vital for us."

Ferguson believes that his team will have learned lessons from the group phase game in Barcelona. "Our first half there was absolutely magnificent, but by the end we had to scramble a 3-3 draw. There were periods when I thought we were getting torn apart and periods when I thought we were tearing them apart. I won't look for that see-saw approach in the Inter game."

The most intriguing element of that encounter will be the availability, or otherwise, of Ronaldo. "I would imagine they're desperate to get him back, but from what I gather that won't be so simple," Ferguson said. "We've got to assume that he'll play against us and we'll have to legislate for that and make sure that tactically we're ready to counter it."

He added: "We've a massive job to do in Milan. We're not past the post yet. We know that. Things can happen when you go to play in Italy and English teams have suffered badly going to play second legs there. But the key thing is that they went away from Old Trafford knowing they have a mountain to climb. That's good."

Before that date with destiny United face Liverpool and Newcastle away in the Premiership, and Ferguson warned: "I don't think we can make a mistake in the League. We can't surrender ground to Arsenal and Chelsea. It's very tight."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific