United target title quickly with Barca in mind

MANCHESTER - Manchester United have no doubt that winning the Premier League is a case of 'when' rather than 'if' and will hope to wrap it up this weekend to boost their chances of adding a European Cup.

The value of being able to rest players was proven on Sunday when United's first-choice team, who had did not play in midweek, exploded straight from kickoff against Chelsea to score in the first minute and threaten unrelentingly in a 2-1 victory.

Beating the champions, who would have gone top of the league on goal difference with a win, left United needing one point from their final two games to secure a record 19th league title.

Their first chance to complete the formalities comes on Saturday when they travel to Blackburn Rovers, who they already beat 7-1 this season, and once it is in the bag they could rest some legs before the Champions League final against Barcelona.

"We just need one point now and I think, knowing the players, they won't muck it up, they'll get their point - there's no doubt about that," manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who is in touching distance of a 12th Premier League title, said.

"In the next few weeks we've got to be doing some work on Barcelona. But we've got to get a point at Blackburn (first)."

Ferguson had made nine changes for Wednesday's Champions League semi-final second leg against Schalke 04 from the side that set up a comfortable lead in the first leg with an eye on the title-decider against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

The Scot used a total of 19 different starters in the two matches this week, drawing on nearly a quarter of a century of experience at the club to get full use out of his squad.


If United fail to lift the trophy in Blackburn, they get a second chance on May 22 against relegation-threatened Blackpool in front of a home crowd who were already celebrating on Sunday and have not witnessed defeat on that pitch all season.

That would leave them less than a week before the May 28 European showpiece at Wembley against Barca, who are similarly close to securing the Spanish league title.

Barcelona have been favourites to win the continent's elite club competition all season but United's persistent attack against Chelsea will have given them plenty to think about.

If Park Ji-sung keeps up anything like the energy levels he managed on Sunday and Antonio Valencia ravages the right wing again, United could be hard to contain especially with 'Little Pea' Javier Hernandez lurking to shoot at any moment.

While United savour the possibilities that lie ahead, one of the sweetest will be breaking the record of 18 titles they share with bitter rivals Liverpool.

When the Merseyside club won the most recent of their titles 21 years ago, few thought the record would be overtaken any time soon - especially not by a club who at that time had won the honour only seven times.

"Fifteen, 20 years ago, you'd never have thought it," midfielder Ryan Giggs, present in every single one of United's Premier League titles, said.

"It's a great achievement by the club and by the manager to haul back our biggest rivals over the 70s, 80s and 90s. We're nearly there and if we do it, it will be special."

'Special' was not the word being uttered at Anfield.

"We never thought anyone could knock us off our perch," former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

"Just as United's fans found it hard to give Liverpool credit when we were the pre-eminent force, there will be little credit where it is due for Ferguson's achievement from Anfield.

"Instead, Liverpool's fans will concentrate on the one record they have left: five European Cups to United's three. And even that may be cut to one by the end of the month."