• FA Cup

Fergie: Utd stronger than Treble crop of 1999

ESPN staff
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Sir Alex Ferguson has claimed that his current Manchester United group are a stronger squad than the one which picked up the Treble in 1999.

Ferguson's side are 12 points clear in the Premier League title race, have an away goal going into the second leg of their last-16 Champions League tied at 1-1 with Real Madrid and face Reading in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday night.

As such, United are still on course to repeat that historic feat and the Scottish boss believes he has more options at his disposal than he did 14 years ago.

"We have a stronger squad now,'' Ferguson said during Friday's press conference. "When we went to the (Champions League) final, Keane and Scholes were suspended but Henning Berg was the only injury.

"I still had to pull in a player (Jonathan Greening) who had only played once or twice in the first-team. He got a medal for being on the bench. That gives you an idea of the strength of the squad.''

The momentum for that magnificent achievement came from an unbeaten run that began following a defeat against Middlesbrough on December 19, which eventually reached 33 games.

It is now 15 matches since United were beaten on home soil by Romanian champions CFR Cluj in a dead Champions League game in December. And with QPR and Norwich to follow the meeting with Reading, there is no sign of that record ending soon.

"It is nice to look back on these things and think how it was done at that particular time,'' Ferguson said. "But the reality is that we should not get carried away, particularly in the FA Cup when anything can happen. You don't want to be a shock.

"In many people's eyes Monday would be, 'yes, it's Reading, we have just been to Madrid, it was a great night, Monday will take care of itself'. Monday can't take care of itself. We have to take care of that.

"We must get a performance off the players that respects our opponents and also the fact the FA Cup can produce shocks.''

It has been repeated fairly frequently that of Ferguson's present squad, only Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher, who will miss the remainder of the season, have won the FA Cup with United.

However, Ferguson spoke of the value of being patient with young players after the likes of Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones and David De Gea shone in Madrid in midweek.

"We're always patient with young players," he added. "We're patient with Tom Cleverley. We sent him out on loan on four different occasions and he's matured. Now he's an important member of the squad. You have to show patience. If you think they have the ability then you have to be prepared to wait for that.

"Maturity helps [goalkeepers too]. There are very few goalkeepers who are the finished article at 20 years of age. There are some examples, like Gianluigi Buffon and Petr Cech. That's not always the case.

"Peter Schmeichel didn't join us until he was 27 and then gave us eight great years. Normally for goalkeepers it's the mid-20s until you get the finished article.

"A good performance helps everyone. It gives them confidence, there's no doubt about that. It won't change him. He [De Gea] is a down-to-earth boy."

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