Ferguson: United we stand while others are busy fighting

 

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The Independent Football

"There is no I in TEAM" is a phrase beloved of managers who decorate the dressing room with inspirational slogans. At Manchester United's Carrington base there are some carefully chosen quotations from Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson on the walls of the academy but neither quotes nor platitudes where the senior players operate. There is no need. While their neighbours argue on the pitch and fight on the training ground, United have lived up to the name as they have run down, then overtaken, the arrivistes down the road.

"We tend to take unity for granted here," said Ferguson yesterday. "We expect it here. It doesn't happen everywhere." He could then have mentioned Mario Balotelli and Aleksandar Kolarov squaring up to each other over the taking of a free-kick last weekend, or Balotelli's various scrapes with team-mates at City's adjacent training ground. He did not need to, the comparison is in everyone's minds already, and Ferguson instead picked out the row between Wolves' Wayne Hennessey and Roger Johnson as an example of how pressure can get to teams.

Ferguson added: "Players like Ferdinand, Carrick, Scholes and Giggs can ensure that unity. There are young players in the dressing room who wonder why Giggs and Scholes have lasted so long, and if they are willing to learn and be top players, then they are great examples to Welbeck, De Gea, Da Silva and Cleverley. Can you win a title without unity? Well, a team wins the League."

A squad, too. Mancini's complaints at a lack of depth in his squad may seem ridiculous given the cash at his disposal but Ferguson underlined the need for a big group. United have used 31 players in the League this season – 17 more than Aston Villa when winning the 42-game First Division in 1980-81. Players who back in August were expected to play major roles, such as Nemanja Vidic, Darren Fletcher, Tom Cleverley and the Da Silva brothers, have all made fewer than 10 appearances each.

"It is a bigger squad than we have had in the past," said Ferguson. "We had 22 at Blackburn [on Monday] and with four [more] out injured that is a big squad.

"The need for a bigger squad is obvious. It is hard to win the League, no doubt about that, and you have to protect your team as best you can."

When Vidic ruptured his cruciate ligaments in Basle in December it seemed United's challenge was destined to falter. With Rio Ferdinand plagued by back problems, the Serb had emerged as the dominant partner in central defence, the probable tutor to raw talents Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Even Ferguson had publicly wondered how much longer Ferdinand could continue. Dropped from the national side, the 33-year-old seemed to be moving towards a new career as one of his generation's self-appointed Twitter spokesmen.

Three months on, Ferdinand's focus is back with the day job, and Ferguson approves. He said: "This has probably been his most consistent form for a long, long time. In his younger days he would make the odd mistake through his carelessness and casualness. He had that trait in him. Now he is using his experience and he is not making any mistakes at all.

"He had to change his game because he couldn't rely on his pace the way he used to as a kid. He was such a pure athlete, he could outrun anyone and took advantage of that. He can't do that now so his positional play has changed. He is a lot deeper than he used to be, but that is not a problem because his experience is vital. He has been brilliant, and he has done a lot when it comes to helping young Evans and the goalkeeper [David De Gea]."

A settled back four has helped, added Ferguson, something that today's opponents would appreciate having used 12 defenders this season including a series of partners for Rio's brother Anton.

Queens Park Rangers arrive at Old Trafford fresh from beating Liverpool and Arsenal, but their manager, Mark Hughes, one of United's most favoured sons, would be delighted to pinch a single point as they strive to ensure this fixture is repeated next season.

Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm

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