Man United's weaknesses exposed

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The interviewer served up the fodder and Sir Alex Ferguson just couldn't help himself.

Provided with the opportunity to explain away the defeat that sliced up his blueprint for another season of success, the Manchester United boss swatted away any trace of blame like only he knows how.

"If he can't get that decision right, why is he officiating in a game like today?" screeched Ferguson, ire fueled and eyes filled with injustice.

"He" in this case was Simon Beck, the assistant referee who refused to wave offside and allowed Didier Drogba's second goal for Chelsea to stand and send the Blues on their way to a 2-1 win at Old Trafford.

The decision was a huge one, with the result allowing Chelsea to take control of the English Premier League title race and open up a two-point gap with only five games to go. At no other point during this enthralling and turbulent campaign has United's grip on a fourth straight crown looked so shaky.

Yet Simon Beck is not the reason the trophy may have to be unbolted from its cabinet in the Old Trafford trophy room and sent on a slow train to West London.

No, if that scenario arises, it will be because there are deficiencies in Ferguson's outstanding squad that were painfully brought to bear by Carlo Ancelotti's exquisitely marshaled group of marauders.

The weaknesses are not significant enough to show up in the course of normal action against regular EPL opposition. But Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, two of Ferguson's favorite United sons, are simply no longer sharp enough to cope with the standard Chelsea delivered on Saturday.

It is easy to see why Neville and Scholes have their manager's loyalty, after well over a decade's fine service. But they were not up to snuff and United was unearthed without its spearhead, Wayne Rooney.

Still, Ferguson clung to his excuse provided by the hapless Mr. Beck. Never mind that there was a hint of handball for Federico Macheda's goal that brought United back to 2-1. Or that there was a clear penalty that should have been awarded when Neville plowed through Nicolas Anelka.

Yes, it is unfortunate that such a vital game included a decision that was not just contentious, but blatantly incorrect, as the Drogba offside was. But Ferguson's blindness to the true cause of his undoing is just as sad, and much more shameless.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him an Advil

Juventus president Jean-Claude Blanc made a wise move by steering clear of his club's latest embarrassing defeat, as they fell 3-0 at Udinese on Saturday. Blanc has already fired Ciro Ferrara and failed to persuade Cesare Prandelli and Laurent Blanc to take over, while seeing the side slip to seventh in Serie A and dumped out of the Europa League. More tough times await.

2. Get him a beer

Cristiano Ronaldo was on target but it is Gonzalo Higuain who is emerging as Real Madrid's man of the season. The Argentina star struck his 24th goal of the campaign as the Galacticos claimed their 12th straight La Liga win to move back to the top of the table against Racing Santander.

3. Get him some earplugs

Gianfranco Zola has been on the receiving end of some vitriolic criticism from West Ham owner David Sullivan after the Hammers' desperate recent run. However, Zola increased his prospects of future employment – and his team's hopes of survival – thanks to Ilan's dramatic late equalizer at Everton.

4. Keep an eye on …

Edson Buddle. The Los Angeles Galaxy striker took his season tally to three goals in two games with a double in a 2-0 victory over local rival Chivas USA. Any American forward who is scoring regularly has some chance of forcing his way into the World Cup squad, given the shortage of in-form American front men right now.

5. Catch a flight to …

Barcelona. There is never a bad time to visit this spectacular Catalan city, so stroll around the Ramblas, check out the culture and, oh yeah, don't forget a certain Champions League quarterfinal second leg between Barca and Arsenal on Tuesday night. The contest is all-square after the first leg, but without the injured Cesc Fabregas, the Gunners are a huge underdog.

6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week

0 – The number of MLS clubs who will use the new regulation permitting up to three designated players (two plus one that can be traded for) this season or next.

7. Fond farewell

Hull City's bid to avoid EPL relegation took a blow when captain George Boateng received an accidental yet sickening boot to the head from Stoke City's Tuncay. Boateng is likely to miss at least a couple of games, something the Tigers can ill-afford.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Patrick Vieira. The Manchester City midfielder's sporadic form since arriving at Eastlands means the club is unlikely to exercise its 12-month option on him at the end of the season. He has already claimed that a move to MLS would hold appeal and the Philadelphia Union could be a possible destination.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Brian Ching. The Houston Dynamo striker injured his left hamstring against Real Salt Lake on Thursday, throwing his spot on the United States World Cup squad into jeopardy. With Bob Bradley's camp already nursing some injury doubts, can the coach afford to take any chances if Ching is not fully fit by the time the USA departs for South Africa?

10. Get excited about …

The Europa League. Sure, the Champions League is rightly hogging most of the attention but the Competition Formerly Known As The UEFA Cup is building up nicely, thank you very much. All four quarterfinals are in the balance heading into the second legs on Thursday, with Liverpool's clash with Benfica the pick of the bunch.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Dutch-Spanish actress Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen, fiancée of Inter Milan star Wesley Sneijder.