United's record-breakers prepare for title party
Twenty-five years after taking over at Manchester United with the goal of knocking Liverpool "off their perch", Sir Alex Ferguson's long-held dream is likely to become reality on Saturday.
After a magnificent performance at Old Trafford last weekend to dispose of Chelsea, United need only a draw at Blackburn to secure a record 19th title and overtake Liverpool as the most successful club in English history. In a twist that will delight United fans, the Red Devils can clinch the title on the very day that cross-town rivals Manchester City are hoping to end their 35-year trophy drought in the FA Cup final at Wembley.
United's likely coronation at Ewood Park will come after a season where Ferguson's men have faced persistent and unflattering comparisons with some of the Scot's more celebrated Championship-winning teams. But Ryan Giggs, the veteran midfielder who is the only player to have been a member of all 11 of United's Championship wins under Ferguson to date, is unfazed by the criticism.
"To be honest, it really doesn't bother us," Giggs said. "We all concede that, in the first half of the season, we were not playing brilliantly but we were getting results. The second half of the season, after Christmas, we've been brilliant. The performances have been brilliant and so have the results.
"We've played some great stuff in both the European games and in the league so we don't really care what people say. We know the quality in the dressing room and so does the manager."
Statistically at least, United's current side stacks up favourably against more celebrated Ferguson teams - four points from their final two matches would give United a better points tally than the treble-winning squad of 1999. Ferguson meanwhile has ruled out any possibility of his players falling at the final hurdle.
"Knowing the players they won't muck it up. They'll get their point," Ferguson said. "I would be surprised if we didn't win it now. We only need one point from the last two games and the last game is at home.
"Blackburn and Blackpool are great football clubs and we want to make sure we don't underestimate them because we have come too far to do that. But it's fantastic to be the team with the most championship victories in the country. It's an incredible achievement."
Relegation scrap intensifies
While Ferguson and United prepare to crack open the champagne, the attention elsewhere this weekend focuses on the frenzied battle for survival at the foot of the table, where West Ham could become the first side to be relegated if they lose at Wigan on Sunday. West Ham midfielder Scott Parker admits that the east London club's prospects are looking grim.
"It's out of our hands a bit even if we win both our games," said Parker, recently voted as the Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year. "I would be lying if I said we had a good opportunity of surviving but there's still a slight chance we can do something. All we can do is win our final two games and then see what happens. You never know."
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy has urged his team to concentrate on getting six points in their final two games, starting at Sunderland on Saturday before they travel to Blackburn on the last day of the season. Speculation has been rife that Manchester United will field a weakened team in their last game of the season at home to Blackpool to avoid risking any players ahead of the UEFA Champions League final on 28 May.
While an under-strength United team could have repercussions in the relegation dog-fight, McCarthy has said Wolves destiny remains in their hands. "We need to win our games, we need to get our points, and if we get our points, there is nobody or nothing that can do anything about it," he said.
"Let me concentrate on that and not be worried what Wigan, West Ham, Birmingham and all the others are doing. If we get our points, they can do just as they please and it's not going to bother me one iota."