NEWCASTLE, March 3 – Manchester United return to Premier League action at Newcastle on Wednesday with Old Trafford legend Sir Bobby Charlton admitting the possibility of completing a remarkable clean sweep of five trophies this season can't be ruled out.
Sunday’s League Cup success allied to their Club World Cup victory in December puts the Old Trafford club well on the way to creating history as they eye further success in the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup to complete a stunning clean-sweep.
After that dramatic 4-1 penalty shoot-out victory over Tottenham at Wembley, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side turn their attention back to cementing their advantage on top of the Premier League.
United tackle Newcastle on the back of a 15-game unbeaten league run, their last 10 games all victories, during which time they’ve conceded just one goal.
It has propelled them back to the top of the table with a seven-point cushion over Chelsea and Liverpool, which has them strong favourites to clinch their third consecutive domestic title.
Charlton, who received the Freedom of the City of Manchester at a ceremony on Monday in recognition of his record-breaking 20-year Old Trafford playing career and ambassadorial work for the club, admitted the quintuple is possible but realistically remains unlikely.
"People are saying United can possibly win five trophies this year. We’ve got two but of course the others are not so easy. I’m not going to say we’re not going to do it, and we’ll have a crack," he said.
"But I have to say that I don’t agree with those people who say the league is over. We have too many games to play and we have too many good teams to play against so to say it’s over is crazy."
"We are the favourites to do that, that’s obvious, but it’s not a foregone conclusion, although I wouldn’t put anything past this set of players."
Ferguson has the luxury of being able to restore Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, Edwin van der Sar and Michael Carrick, who were not even in the League Cup final squad, to the side as United look to further improve a run that has seen them win five of their last six visits to St James’ Park, scoring 20 goals in the process.
Troubled Newcastle are the only team to earn a point at Old Trafford this season, but the Tyneside club desperately need a victory to halt a sequence of one win in 11 games.
It leaves them just two points above the relegation zone as they face a daunting sequence of consecutive home games against United, Arsenal and Chelsea.
A knee ligament problem forces Newcastle’s Nicky Butt to miss out against his former club, leaving Chris Hughton with a problem in midfield.
The caretaker manager is already without injured trio Joey Barton, Damien Duff and Danny Guthrie, while Kevin Nolan is suspended.
Alan Smith comes in as cover, with the England international set to make his first start in 10 months after a persistent ankle problem.
Newcastle’s 16-year stay in the Premier League is under serious threat, and defender Steven Taylor admitted:
"We’re in a relegation fight and we have to be men and stand up to the challenge."
Keeper Steve Harper added: "We should have the best part of a full house and the supporters will be looking for us to give 100 percent commitment.
"It is important all the lads are on their game because they will have to be. We have to go out there all guns blazing and take on the champions."