Sir Alex says United’s Boxing Day victory over Stoke City leaves the Reds in great shape to launch a title assault in the second half of the season.
“I’ve always said that if we could get to New Year’s Day and be a couple of points adrift then we’d be very happy,” the boss told Sky Sports. “We expect to kick on in the second half of the season.”
United may have thrashed Stoke City 5-0 at Old Trafford in November, but at the Britannia Stadium it was a different story. The Reds were made to work hard for the three points and only secured the win courtesy of a late Carlos Tevez goal.
But Sir Alex dismissed any suggestion his side was feeling the effects of last week’s trip to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup.
“We were worried about how that was going to affect the team,” he admitted, “but we’ve seen today that the players’ energy was good.
“I’ve got no complaints there. I think they’ve handled the travelling very well. It was a difficult game – very difficult – but sometimes you have to be patient in games like this.”
With scores locked at 0-0, Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson was dismissed for a second yellow card. United netted 11 minutes later, although Sir Alex wasn’t convinced the sending off changed the game.
“I don’t think it gave us any sort of a lift, apart from the numerical advantage and the clear possession it gave us. But I felt we had that [the clear possession] already.
“The dismissal may have affected Stoke in the sense that they were one defender short, although they brought on Davies at the back [to compensate].”
Sir Alex responded by throwing on Dimitar Berbatov for John O’Shea, forcing Ryan Giggs to move to left back.
“We took that risk, but it was worth it to get the three points,” he said.
It then appeared the manager was about to replace Tevez (the eventual match-winner) with winger Ji-sung Park.
“Maybe I was,” he said with a wry smile. “At that point I was thinking the match could end in a draw. We were a little worried about our lack of width and I wanted to get Wayne Rooney back in the middle.