Charles Coutts, manager of SBNation's Manchester United blog the Busby Babe, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the team ahead of today's matchup. I did the same, and if you'd like to see what I had to say you can catch that post here.
Manchester United are currently sitting in quite a decent position, in sole possession of first place with five points between themselves and Arsenal. How confident are you in their ability to hold on to first place the rest of the way?
I'm confident that we'll definitely be in the title race. The schedule doesn't do us any favors with trips to the Emirates, Stamford Bridge and Anfield left, not to mention visits to Old Trafford from City and Chelsea. It gets even trickier when you consider the European ambitions and the FA Cup as well. This is where fixture congestion can really take a lot out of a team. I think it's a two horse race at this point with Arsenal being the other suitor.
How realistic is the possibility that United could go undefeated?
When you look at the remaining fixtures, it looks like a long shot, but United have been very resilient when they needed to be. Grabbing a point at Villa Park and coming back from 2-0 down against Blackpool last week stick out in my mind the most. I think a lot of it depends on how healthy the squad can be and how well they can play through the odd knocks. At the point, I'm more concerned with playing quality football consistently than gaining points.
Wayne Rooney's form (or lack thereof) has been a pretty major topic of conversation this season. How concerned are you that this is less a slump and more the new norm?
I don't think he's in a slump, he may not be scoring as many goals as usual, but his service has been excellent. I think the last couple of years the team has relied on him to score goals, filling the void of Ronaldo when he left. The last calendar year, he had to deal with ankle injury that really never went away, even though he played at the end of the domestic season and through the World Cup. He was really subpar at the beginning of this and was only fully fit once he returned from training at the Nike headquarters in December. I think the emergence of Berbatov as a goal scoring threat (which, let's face it, he wasn't one last year) has really allowed him to sit back and help out on the left side. He's really close though...numerous shots since his return have been only inches away from going in and I think it's only a matter of time before they start hitting the back of the net.
With Rooney not contributing as perhaps expected, Dimitar Berbatov is having the best season of his professional career. Is this just him hitting his peak, or has something changed that's allowed him to flourish?
I'm a little confused about Berbatov. He leads the league with 19 goals, yet 11 of those goals were against Liverpool, Blackburn and Birmingham City. He can get really hot and crank out a ton of goals, or go on a goalless streak like he did after the Liverpool game, which lasted the better of two months. He has exactly 0 goals outside of the Premier League (well, one if you count the Community Shield). So has potent as he's been at times, he's been severely impotent the rest of the time.
Talk a bit about Nani's development. He's been a star-in-the-making for a bit now, is it fair to say that he's turned the corner and is beginning to fulfill his potential?
He had big shoes to fill, didn't he? I think he's finally coming into his own as another in a long line of quality right wingers for United. He's never going to be a huge goal scorer like Ronaldo, he doesn't have a lot of the flash like Ronaldo, but he does have good enough ball control to get a quality cross in when he needs to, or get past a defender and drive into the box. He leads the league in assists and I would guesstimate that most of those were setting up Berbatov. My only problem with him is he will go to the ground really easily and doesn't necessarily do it at the best time. Sometimes instead of looking for a penalty, you're better served staying on your feet and finishing the play and that's something he still needs to learn.
Compared to what we saw from some of the other top teams in the league, this was a fairly quiet transfer window for United. Are you disappointed that little was done or happy that you stayed out of the madness?
I think Sir Alex will be disappointed that he wasn't able to secure another goalkeeper in this window, but I think there will be deals to be had in the summer window. I'm just disappointed that I have to read through another 6 months of speculation about who he's targeting. Outside of that, I don't think there are too many spots where United really need improvement or even more depth. I got to watch some Sky Sports during my lunch and saw that Carroll is apparently worth 35 million and Fernando Torres is worth 50 million. I think I'm glad we stayed out of that madness, because I don't rate either player near that kind of money.