Last weekend it was the title race and last night it was a feud that was rekindled between Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger as the Scot accused the Arsenal manager of massaging his own ego with claims Manchester United are renowned for their lack of stamina.
Though Wenger is no longer his sole competitor for the Premiership crown, there remains no greater irritant to the Manchester United manager than the man who orchestrated a 2-1 victory over his team last Sunday after instructing his trailing Arsenal side, in the words of midfielder Mathieu Flamini, to "keep concentrating because Manchester would run out of steam in the last 20 minutes." Flamini added: "He insisted, 'They are never the same after 70 minutes' and once again he was right."
To a slight degree, Ferguson concurred. Having seen his side concede late goals in all three Premiership defeats this season, twice against Arsenal and once at West Ham, and also squandered the opportunity to extend their lead at the top of the Premiership by conceding late equalisers against Chelsea and at Newcastle, the United manager had no option but to be concerned. The suggestion that a lack of endurance provides the most convincing explanation, however, drew a contemptuous response and a claim from Ferguson that Wenger was merely acting wise after the event.
"A load of nonsense," he stated. "I agree we have been losing too many late goals, but there are different ways of analysing that. We have been winning games and taken our foot off the pedal, that happened against Reading and Wigan, and we conceded a late equaliser at Newcastle to a deflected shot. There's nothing you can do about that.
"At Arsenal it was a lack of concentration and from a winning position we were gutted at that result," Ferguson added, "but to say it is a lack of stamina is absolute nonsense. Maybe he is saying that to make himself look great again, you know - 'I am the great Arsène Wenger'. What would he have said if he had lost 1-0, as he should have done? It's a bit petty to come out with that nonsense."
Later, however, Wenger attempted to clarify what he had said. "I did not say they crumble in the last 20 minutes," he told reporters. "At half-time I said: 'Continue to play until the last minute because remember at Old Trafford we scored in the last five minutes. Why should we not repeat that?' That's all.
"Of course, after there was a big analysis that they concede more goals in the last 20 minutes - but most of the time that is because they lead and teams have a go at them. Manchester United are top of the league - and if they are top of the League that means they do not collapse."
Nevertheless, Ferguson admitted the reverse at the Emirates Stadium had served as a "final warning" to his players to improve their concentration, but he denied United had failed to capitalise on Chelsea's unrest once again. "If you look at the respective performances, I don't think you could say that at all," he said.
It is to the FA Cup that Ferguson diverts his attention this evening, when United entertain Portsmouth at Old Trafford, and though Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to be absent, having spent the past week on holiday in Dubai, his manager insisted there was no prospect of the Portuguese winger leaving the club for Real Madrid this summer.
"Real Madrid do this with every club when they want a player, not just us," said Ferguson after reports of a £35m bid for Ronaldo at the end of the season. "They did it with David Beckham and that nonsense went on for months until they got him, but we sell the players we want to sell and there is absolutely no way Cristiano Ronaldo is leaving. He is happy here. He has a contract until 2010 and we are not interested in even thinking about selling him."
Despite no encouragement from Bayern Munich on last week's £20m offer for Owen Hargreaves, the United manager also insisted he had not given up hope of finally landing the England midfielder before the close of the transfer deadline next week. "I am not giving up on anything that makes us better."Reuse content