THE FORTRESS THAT Alex Ferguson spent 26 years building at Old Trafford is in ruins as visiting clubs no longer fear going there, according to former Manchester United striker Andrew Cole.
The Scot enjoyed unprecedented success during his tenure with teams often believing they were beaten before they even walked out onto the pitch.
Under David Moyes, however, that simply hasn’t been the case with United only picking up 16 from a possible 36 points at home thanks to defeats by West Brom, Newcastle, Everton and Spurs.
Currently languishing in seventh in the table, the reigning champions are now under pressure to guarantee qualification for next season’s Champions League with a top four finish.
“A lot of teams will say the fear factor is not there anymore,” said Cole during a visit to Dublin this week. “If you’ve been to Old Trafford this season, you’ll see that a lot of teams will change the way they play when they come.
“With a new manager, they’re thinking it’s a great opportunity to go and beat Manchester United.
“They’ve come with a lot more swagger than in past years and got themselves decent results. Under the previous manager, teams would not have played that way.”
With 14 league fixtures remaining, United are a whopping 15 points adrift of top spot while there is a seven-point gap between them and fourth-placed Liverpool.
And Cole, who won five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League during a six-year spell at the club, isn’t overly confident of their chances.
It’s going to be really tough as they will have to play extremely well from now until the end of the season,” he said. “Chris Smalling has said they will have to win the next 14 games, and if they do that they deserve to get in that position.
“They’ve got some tough games ahead but they need to try and win them.”
Next up for United is the return of former coach Rene Meulensteen, who is now in charge of bottom side Fulham. The Dutchman was credited with developing a number of players while working under Ferguson but departed in the summer along with assistant boss Mike Phelan and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.
With the Cottagers staring relegation in the face, Cole believes Meulensteen will be more focused on picking up points than getting reacquainted with old friends.
“Regardless if it’s Manchester United or Norwich City, Fulham are in a position where they need to get results. They’re bottom of the league but if you look at the quality players they have you say to yourself ‘how have they got themselves in the position?’.
“That’s the Premier League though. Forget Rene coming back to the United saying he wants to get one over on them, Fulham need three points.”
Crucial to their hopes are front pairing Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie as well as January signing Juan Mata. The strikers have both recently returned from injuries with the team inevitably struggling in their absence.
“It’s always important to have your best players playing but injuries are part and parcel of the game,” insists Cole.
“When you’re at a club like Manchester United you’ve got to be able to deal with those kind of things. You have to have other players that can step up as it’s a squad game.”
Cole (right) and former Man United strike partner Dwight Yorke. Credit: Tom Honan/EMPICS Sport
While Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge are currently causing Premier League defences all sorts of problems, Cole himself formed one of the best strike partnerships English football has ever seen with Dwight Yorke – the pair scoring 53 goals between en route to an historic treble in the 1998/99 .
But who does Cole rate as his favourite duo at the moment?
“I judge everything on the partnerships I’ve had in my career — the likes of Peter Beardsley and Dwight Yorke. I was lucky because I had some good partnerships and I’m not envious about any at the moment.
They’re all exciting in different ways. Suarez and Sturridge, Rooney and Van Persie, and Aguero and Negredo.
“I like them because Negredo is old-fashioned, he’s swashbuckling, he’s physical. He does all the old-fashioned stuff but he can still play.
“Aguero has got a low centre of gravity and gets ridiculous goals. I look at them all and say they’re all quality partnerships and they’re contributing towards their sides.”
The Setanta Sports Pack is broadcasting the two upcoming meetings between Arsenal and Liverpool (8 February and 16 February) as well as Arsenal v Manchester United on 12 February.
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