United can win the treble, insists bullish Ferguson

Fourteen games in two months not a problem, says manager ahead of visit to Chelsea

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson has expressed for the first time his belief that Manchester United can win a treble this season and declared last night that his side were "desperate" to overcome Chelsea to progress towards a Champions League final at Wembley.

"We can repeat the treble of 1999," Ferguson said. "It's 14 games in two months but at United we are used to this kind of thing." United's preparations will be affected by an independent FA commission ruling hours before the game on whether the club's challenge to the severity of a two-game ban against Wayne Rooney is successful, but Ferguson attempted to keep the focus on repairing a dismal recent record of no wins in five against Chelsea during Carlo Ancelotti's 99-match era. "They will be desperate to win the European Cup," Ferguson said of Chelsea in his pre-match press conference at Lord's. "But no more than we are."

Ferguson refused to discuss the Rooney issue and attributed the player's non-appearance for pre-match open training at Carrington to a "bad bruise at the front of his shin" rather than a deliberate attempt to remove him from the spotlight, following the controversy over the player swearing at a television camera during United's match against West Ham on Saturday.

Suggestions that a Sky cameraman at Upton Park had invited Rooney to kiss the camera as West Ham's Mark Noble had done after scoring, thus prompting the outburst, could not be confirmed last night. But United, for whom Rio Ferdinand may start tonight's Champions League quarter-final, carry a sense of injustice into west London after refereeing decisions in the past two years.

Ferguson, serving a five-match domestic touchline ban over criticism of referee Martin Atkinson after last month's 2-1 defeat at the ground, declared Ancelotti was a "lucky" manager against United.

The defender Patrice Evra insisted last night that there had been "only one team on the pitch" in the 2-1 defeat. "I have a lot of respect for Chelsea and every year it is the most dangerous result for us in terms of trying to win the title," Evra said. "But it's like the manager said, it's something very strange, because always we play very well at Chelsea but in the end we lose."

Ferguson, who has Rafael da Silva and Jonny Evans available to him, did not accept that the nature of United's Moscow triumph on penalties over Chelsea in the 2008 European Cup final would motivate their opponents. "I don't believe players think about revenge," he said. "Something that happened three years ago goes out of your mind quite quickly. The main ambition for any team is to win the cup. It doesn't matter who you play or when you play them. That's your main target, to win the match, not what happened three years ago."

Ferguson acknowledged the "one major difference from 2008. No Ronaldo. He was a fantastic player." Deliberately or otherwise, he overlooked Carlos Tevez, who also started for him in Moscow. "There's more maturity in this side I suppose," he said, adding that United would progress if they took any kind of promising position back to Old Trafford next Tuesday.

"The name of the game is to go back to Old Trafford with a goal in our pocket, hopefully even two," he said. "We want to make sure we go back there with a live chance of qualifying. And if we do that, we will be very difficult to beat on our own ground."

Ancelotti suggested yesterday that the Rooney penalty was harsh. "The behaviour was not good but when you score a goal... In Italy nothing happens. Here they are very strong," he said.

The appeal will be heard by a three-man independent regulatory commission at Wembley this afternoon and though United will hear the outcome before tonight's game, the FA may not publicly disclose it out of respect to the club's on-field duties. Technically, the decision to challenge the two-game ban may be considered 'frivolous' and extended to three if it fails. The absence of a direct domestic precedent gives United a good case to claim that the length of the ban is "excessive".

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