One point against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park will seal the Premier League for Manchester United tomorrow afternoon.
Last week’s win against Chelsea all but guaranteed United winning the title for a record 19th time, but history tells us that United never do things the easy way and because Ewood Park isn’t a happy hunting ground, not everyone is taking the title’s sealing for granted.
A repeat of last year’s 0-0 draw would suit both teams; United would win the League and Blackburn would give themselves further breathing space above the relegation zone. The result last April however was detrimental to United’s title challenge; if Antonio Valencia had scored when he went one-on-one with Paul Robinson it would’ve meant the 19th title had already been won.
Edwin van der Sar will be rested for the first time in nine games and be replaced by Tomasz Kuszczak rather than Anders Lindegaard; who has only returned to training over the last week following knee surgery. Kuszczak is widely believed to be leaving at the end of the season as he seeks first-team football to get back into the national team ahead of Poland’s joint-hosting of the 2012 European Championships. Whenever the Polish stopper has appeared for United – despite a few heart-in-mouth moments, he’s never let the club down and has been a good understudy to van der Sar.
Darren Fletcher played for 65 minutes against Blackburn’s reserves in midweek as he aims to get fit for the Champions League Final on May 28th. The Scottish National team captain may get his first, first-team start since the beginning of March against Blackburn tomorrow, though it’s likely he’ll have to be content with a place on the bench after Sir Alex Ferguson declared he will play his strongest possible team tomorrow.
Anderson could come back into the team in place of Ryan Giggs after being an unused substitute in the Chelsea game last week. The 23-year-old Brazilian was unfortunate to be left out after his two-goal, man-of-the-match display against Schalke so may make his return to the team tomorrow as his manager will likely want to rest Giggs for the Champions League Final. Despite the game against Barcelona being two weeks away, 37-year-old Giggs takes longer to recover and his age-defying energy in last-week’s victory over Chelsea can be attributed to a 12 day break leading up to the game.
The League’s top-scorer Dimitar Berbatov will once more find himself on the substitute’s bench as Sir Alex will continue with the Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney partnership to combat the strength, power and height of Blackburn’s defence. Antonio Valencia will keep his place in the team ahead of out-of-form Nani, as he is still one appearance shy of qualifying for a League winners’ medal should United triumph.
Nani may well replace Park Ji-Sung on the left to test Blackburn’s veteran right-back Michel Salgado, whose famed supporting runs from right-back have succumbed to age and are nowadays few and far between. His tackling is still just as hard however, and United will look to use the pace of Nani over the industry of Park to gain an advantage from Salgado’s almost gung-ho approach to challenging.
Patrice Evra and John O’Shea are struggling for fitness so United could line up with the da Silva twins as full-backs (Rafael right and Fabio left). Jonny Evans could also play left-back after doing well in that role against Chelsea, which would see Fabio start on the right and Rafael on the bench.
It’s been a peculiar season for Rovers; a £50m+ takeover of the club by Indian poultry group “Venky’s” was initially welcomed by the supporters, but Sam Allardyce’s sacking and the appointment of Steve Kean – a manager whom appears to have been appointed purely to pander to the owner’s agenda, has resulted in the club being caught up in the relegation battle since the turn of the year. Last week’s draw with West Ham has left them only needing a point to ensure their Premier League status for next season and if that happens then it remains to be seen if the owners will put their money where their mouth is and invest in the team.
The season has been a mixture of doom and joy on the pitch for Rovers, victories over Liverpool and Bolton as well as a last-gasp draw with Blackpool after being 2-0 down have been the highlights which have been countered by lows including a 7-1 defeat against tomorrow’s opponents at Old Trafford in November.
Despite requesting a transfer in the wake of Allardyce’s sacking, Christopher Samba has excelled for Rovers once again this season. The Congolese defender’s form has been key to Blackburn in their battle against the drop – especially in the absence of captain Ryan Nelsen, and has only been overshadowed by the performances of David “Junior” Hoilett. The Canadian-born winger has been a revelation and will be very important to Rovers if they are to get anything against the Champions elect tomorrow.
United’s poor results at Ewood Park over the last few years have mostly been draws – Blackburn’s last victory came in January 2006, and another draw tomorrow would be United’s tenth away from home this season, but more importantly it would mean that Manchester United were once again Champions of England.
Referee: Phil Dowd
Last five meetings:
27/11/10 – United 7-1 Blackburn Rovers
11/04/10 – Blackburn Rovers 0-0 United
31/10/09 – United 2-0 Blackburn Rovers
21/02/09 – United 2-1 Blackburn Rovers
03/12/08 – United 5-3 Blackburn Rovers
29. Kuszczak; 21. Rafael, 12. Smalling, 15. Vidic, 20. Fabio; 25. Valencia, 16. Carrick, 8. Anderson, 17. Nani; 10. Rooney, 14. Hernandez.