Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has challenged his misfiring players to use today’s FA Cup third round trip to Southampton as an opportunity to rediscover their scoring touch.
United have not scored more than one goal in a Premier League game since beating Stoke City 5-3 at Old Trafford in November.
Ferguson is anxious to put that statistic right at the St Mary’s Stadium today ahead of a potentially crucial league meeting with Chelsea next weekend.
“Every game is an opportunity to score goals,” Ferguson said. “We made 25 chances against Middlesbrough on Monday and scored once. It is not what we expect, but with the players we have, you have to think someone is going to suffer. The goalscoring will correct itself at some point because we have good goalscorers.”
No team has ever won the English Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup in the same season and Ferguson has already played down United’s chances of a historic quadruple.
The United boss is looking for an extended FA Cup run after being knocked out by Southampton’s south coast rivals and eventual winners Portsmouth last season.
“We are competing. The FA Cup is partly down to luck. It is sudden death and anything can happen,” Ferguson said. “We have not got the home draw I always look for, but they have a good stadium and I expect an interesting game. Southampton were one of the most consistent teams for nearly 30 years. They had a fantastic record for a provincial team, with some marvelous players.”
“They had that golden period under Lawrie McMenemy, with lads like Peter Shilton, Mike Channon and Kevin Keegan. More recently, Matthew Le Tissier was top goalscorer in the Premier League,” he said. “Now they are having to deal with young players, but their coach has done a great job considering he has no money to work with.”
United’s preparations have been boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo pledging his future to the club and the £16 million (US$23 million) double signing of Serbian youngsters Zoran Tosic and Adem Ljajic from Partizan Belgrade.
While United are preparing for a second half of the season assault at home and in Europe, Southampton face a battle to preserve their Championship status.
Their Dutch manager Jan Poortvliet says beating Ferguson’s side would equal the achievement of playing for his country in the 1978 World Cup final against Argentina.
“This is your biggest challenge as a manager, when you play against the world champions and you can put them out of the FA Cup,” Poortvliet said. “You will remember the day for the rest of your life. The FA Cup is massive, not only in England but also in Holland, because it will be on television there. For every coach it is special playing against the best in Europe and in the world. It is like a World Cup final. Playing for my country in the World Cup final was huge, but you can say Sunday has the same prestige.”
United will be without injured defender Rio Ferdinand, while Polish international Tomasz Kuszczak is set to replace the rested Edwin van der Sar in goal.