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Rediff.com  » Sports » Title champagne on ice for Manchester United

Title champagne on ice for Manchester United

May 05, 2007 09:26 IST

Manchester United could ease the disappointment of being knocked out of the Champions League by winning the English league title for the 16th time this weekend.

They can take a huge step towards lifting the trophy on Saturday -- less than three days after their semi-final defeat at AC Milan -- by beating Manchester City away.

Their first Premier League title since 2003 will then be sealed a little over 24 hours later if they win and second-placed Chelsea fail to beat Arsenal in the London derby at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

United have a five-point lead with three matches to play and can win the double by taking Chelsea's title and beating them in the first FA Cup final at the new Wembley Stadium on May 19.

After the Champions League defeat, United manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports: "You have to put disappointment behind you which has been a measure of this club. We've handled it in the past and we can handle it on Saturday.

UNITED INCENTIVE

"We can win the title at the weekend. We know it's a big game -- that's the incentive for us. What we have to do now is make sure we recover in the proper way."

Ferguson hinted that central defender Rio Ferdinand could return from injury to face a City side who have not scored at home for seven successive matches since New Year's Day -- a record in the English top flight.

City have also suspended volatile midfielder Joey Barton until the end of the season for a bust-up with French team mate Ousmane Dabo on the training ground.

City manager Stuart Pearce is buoyant about his team's chances, though, telling the club's Web site (www.mcfc.co.uk) on Thursday: "Winning always gives you a lift, but obviously against this mob it's special in our supporters eyes.

"For our supporters, this game means the world and it always has done... It's going to be a great game, a great occasion, in front of a full house and everything that a good English derby should be."

If United win, as expected, Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho will need to draw on all his man-management skills to lift his side, who were also knocked out of the Champions League in Tuesday's semi-final defeat on penalties at Liverpool.

Realistically, Chelsea's attention will now be on the FA Cup final with United and the chance of a domestic cup double.

Ukraine striker Andriy Shevchenko could return after Chelsea said a groin injury had kept him out of the defeat at Anfield.

YOUNG SIDE

Fourth-placed Arsenal, whose young side lost to Chelsea in February's League Cup final, have no such pretensions after their season imploded two months ago.

Both sides are already assured of their Champions League status for next season, with Chelsea in the group stage and Arsenal in the final qualifying round.

Arsenal's Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky has been rated by manager Arsene Wenger as having a 50/50 chance of being fit after a hamstring injury, while Swede Freddie Ljungberg is definitely out with a hamstring problem of his own.

After hitting the heights in Europe, Rafael Benitez's third-placed Liverpool visit struggling Fulham on Saturday.

Despite the arrival of new manager Lawrie Sanchez, Fulham are 16th in the 20-team table on 36 points -- just one point above the relegation zone -- with two games to play.

Two clubs will join relegated Watford in the second division next season and 19th-placed Charlton Athletic, on 33 points, are prime candidates before hosting Tottenham Hotspur on Monday.

West Ham United's five wins from seven games still leave them in the bottom three with 35 points but they are now only behind Wigan Athletic on goal difference.

They have home advantage against Bolton Wanderers, who will have Sammy Lee in charge for the first time since Sam Allardyce quit as manager on Sunday, while Wigan host Middlesbrough.

An intriguing battle is also going on for UEFA Cup places with Bolton, Everton, Reading, Portsmouth and Spurs vying for three berths available for teams in fifth, sixth and seventh.

Portsmouth are at Everton while Reading, like Pompey chasing a European place for the first time, should beat a Watford side who came up with them last year but are going straight down.

Source:
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