LONDON: Sir Alex Ferguson faces an exam from a former pupil this weekend as Manchester United seek to bounce back from their FA Cup exit at the hands of League One leaders Leeds United by beating the Premier League’s form team.Alex McLeish’s Birmingham have confounded pre-season predictions they would struggle with an 11-match unbeaten run in the league that has left them in a battle for European places rather than the scrap against relegation that so many had predicted for them.
United meanwhile have had to endure an extended inquest into the Leeds defeat at a time when there is a renewed focus on the level of the club’s debt and the restrictions it imposes on manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s ability to strengthen a squad that, at times this season, has been severely weakened by injuries.
Ferguson will relish the challenge presented by McLeish, whom he managed as a player for both Aberdeen and Scotland, and veteran winger Ryan Giggs played down suggestions that the defending champions are on the verge of a crisis.
“It has always been the same here, one defeat and it is a disaster,” Giggs said. “That is never going to change. But we don’t get carried away with that, just the same as we wouldn’t get carried away if we had won 10 on the bounce.”
United emerged from the festive season having cut Chelsea’s lead at the top to two points heading into a month in which the Londoners will have to do without Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou, Michael Essien and John Mikel Obi, who have flown to Angola for the African Nations Cup.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side travel to Hull for a lunchtime fixture today with Michael Ballack arguing that, despite a recent blip in form, the Italian coach is doing a good job.
“We have had too many coaches during my time at Chelsea and that is not a good idea if you want success,” the Germany captain said.
“Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari all came and went before Guus Hiddink had some time with us last season, but it feels like Carlo is here to stay and that has to be good news.
“This team has connected with Ancelotti and all the players believe he is a man who can work for us, which is a tribute to him because he has come into a dressing room full of highly experienced players who all have their own opinions and beliefs.”