[IN THE SPOTLIGHT] Rio Ferdinand
's kick in frustration at the door of a television interview room that accidentally hit a female security guard in the ankle and Frenchman Patrice Evra
's exchange with a Stamford Bridge groundskeeper after Manchester United's 2-1 loss to Chelsea on Saturday epitomized a team on the verge of
They also rekindled United's reputation for fiery outbursts.
Ferdinand's mis-kick recalled Sir Alex
's kick of a cleat in the locker room that gashed David Beckham
above his eye in 2003.
Evra's scrap brought back memories
of a more public scuffle by another United Frenchman. Eric Cantona
was suspended for nine months for the kung-fu move he put on a Crystal Palace fan in
United began last week the favorite to win both the Premier League and Champions League. It is now tied with Chelsea for first place in the EPL and needs to beat Barcelona
Tuesday in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semifinal at Old Trafford (TV: ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, live, 2:30 pm ET) to advance to the final.
Ferguson's nerves were
shaken, but he brushed aside suggestions that United was sliding.
"I'm not concerned the season is beginning to affect the team," he said. "I think we should be
sitting here as league champions. I think decisions have gone against us, bad decisions have gone against us."
United's new position in the EPL standings with two games to
play was in part Ferguson's doing. He gambled on resting star Cristiano Ronaldo
and Evra against Chelsea -- a move he defended on Monday.
"Playing Tuesday night after a lunchtime kickoff, there is no way I could have played the same team," said Ferguson. "I had to decide where I could get the best freshness and give my
team the best chance of a European final because that is the best incentive for any player."
United still remains the favorite to beat Barcelona -- the Spanish club's form in
recent weeks has been poor -- but a loss on Tuesday would only add to United's history of problems in the Champions League semifinals under Ferguson. After blowing out Roma with a brilliant
performance in last year's quarterfinals, United fell to Milan in the semifinals. A loss to Barca Tuesday would mark the fourth time Ferguson's United has fallen in five appearances in the
Champions League semifinals.
Another look at United history is more favorable.
Cantona was believed to be finished when he was suspended in 1995, but he returned to
lead United to the 1996 EPL championship. In 2003, Ferguson and Beckham put the flap over Beckham's injury behind them long enough -- Beckham left for Real Madrid after the season -- for United
to win the EPL title.
If United go on to repeat as EPL champion -- it has a big edge in the tiebeaker -- the Ferdinand incident will be just another foot-note in United lore.