Scott the Red: Does your current league position match with your expectations at the start of the season or had you been anticipating a serious title challenge from Chelsea?
Darren Mantle: If we’d kept Ancelotti I’d have expected to compete but with a new manager it was always going to be transitional period. A new manager needs time to get his own players in and get them to play to his style. But yes I did still expect a serious title challenge, and I’m not willing to rule it out yet.
STR: Interestingly enough, you’re in the same position as you were this time last season, except you’re a point better off. Do you think the manager deserves more time to improve and do you think he will be given it?
DM: He deserves at least two of the three years of his contract for the reasons mentioned above, I’d like him to be given the full three years. If we come top three he’ll be fine, out of the top four and I can see a change, if results are bad in the next month I can see them lining up Hiddink again.
STR: Ancelotti got sacked for a lot less though and that was with the double as well. Which players have helped out Villas-Boas the most this season – who have been your best?
DM: Ramires has been outstanding, easily my player of the season, Mata has had a great first season and Sturridge has been impressive too.
STR: What have been your best and worst games this season?
DM: Best – Man City at home and Newcastle away. Worst – Arsenal and Fulham at home, followed by Liverpool and Aston Villa at home. Away – Norwich and QPR .
STR: What would make this season a success for Chelsea now?
DM: Top three for sure. Getting to the final of the Champions League (United try and stop us!) But more realistically the FA Cup (again – try and stop us!)
STR: The last time we played Fernando Torres could have had an easy hattrick. Do you still have faith that he will come good?
DM: Of course, he’s playing well, he’s working for the team, tracking back, closing down making runs, getting assists, he’s had some bad luck lately, a great shot that rattled the bar vs Villa, the overhead that Lampard then tapped in Vs Sunderland, the outside of his boot chance against Norwich. I said at the start of the season he’ll score 15, I’m willing to lower that to 12 now.
STR: It’s been two years now since he was scoring goals on even a fairly regular basis though. Anyway, I’ll try not to tempt fate too much ahead of this afternoon… How would you feel about Jose Mourinho managing United or any other PL club in the future?
DM: I’d hate him to manage any other club in England, he’s made no secret that he wants to return to the league though, but I don’t think he knows where it’ll be. He plays the media well by never dismissing being linked to clubs, including United. But that won’t be this summer, I think Fergie will be in the job until his health stops him, as far as results go he’s showing no signs of losing it, fantastic manager.
STR: The big news this week was John Terry being stripped of the England captaincy, again. What do you think of the decision?
DM: A lot of our fans have been saying it should be innocent until proven guilty, appalling to have lost it over an accusation that no player heard. Capello should have the full decision, not a bunch of businessmen who don’t have the first idea about football and are more interested in marketing potential.
STR: Being suspended pending the verdict is fairly common practice for any professional though and he hasn’t even been suspended, just relieved of the captaincy. I suppose if Terry wanted it resolved before the Euros the club shouldn’t have asked for a delay. Five days off training is probably a small price to pay when it comes to proving you’re not a racist, I’d think. Anyway, who do you think will win the league?
DM: Well, until its mathematically impossible I always say Chelsea, and I believe we still can, but realistically now I’d say United – Mancini isn’t good enough and they’ll fall apart, I’ve never rated him and he’s never come close to changing that opinion, I still think we’ll come above them.
STR: That’s optimistic, but I would be happy with that. Who do you want to win the league?
DM: If not Chelsea then United, I really couldn’t care less who has won it more out of you and Liverpool, and anyone who says we bought it before should see how long its taking City.
STR: Which United players are you most fearful of ahead of this afternoon?
DM: Rooney and Hernandez. If Terry was fit then maybe Evra too!
STR: Ha, fair play. If you could pick one United player to be in your squad who would it be and why?
DM: Hernandez, bags of energy, gets in good positions, I said last March when we played you that he did everything right off the ball but wasn’t strong enough on it, but every match since then I’ve been impressed with him.
STR: He definitely has toughened up this season but he’s been some way short of his form from last season. He did really well against Chelsea last year though, you’re right. Finally, what’s your prediction for today?
DM: 2-1 Chelsea. Torres brace for us, and Young (if fit) for you.
STR: I’ll go 2-1 United. Cheers.