What a joyous week it has been. After all the pre-match nerves before Blackburn and Tomasz Kuszczak’s attempts to stop it from happening, Wayne Rooney’s penalty sealed the coveted nineteenth title that means Manchester United are the most successful team in English football.
The season began with the team’s credentials being questioned by all and sundry and it continued throughout the campaign. Back in February, Arsenal were being touted to win four trophies and now – just three months later, they look like finishing fourth. All the while, United’s stunning home form (100% record in 2011) has been the reason behind the team’s League success.
United will line-up with a ‘fringe’ eleven as they rest players ahead of next week’s Champions League Final. Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Fletcher will also start as they have one last chance to stake a claim for a starting place against Barcelona.
Berbatov has started just five of United’s last nineteen games but remains both United’s and the League’s top goalscorer, despite having a goal taken off him by the dubious goals panel in the week. The Enigmatic Bulgarian’s dropping from the team is by no means his own fault; it wasn’t poor form or injury that saw him usurped by Javier Hernandez, but rather the Mexican’s incredible goalscoring record whenever he was given the chance and his burgeoning partnership with resurgent Wayne Rooney.
It could very well be Berbatov’s last ever competitive game at Old Trafford against a team that he arguably gave the most important performance in a United shirt anyone’s had all season in January, so the striker will out to show United the type of class they will be losing if he moves on to pastures new in the summer.
On the subject of last ever games at Old Trafford – barring a dramatic turnaround, tomorrow will be the last time that Edwin van der Sar will play in a League fixture for Manchester United. When he was signed in 2005, no-one could’ve predicted the six magnificent years that the Dutchman would have. In that time he has won four League titles, two League Cups, one FIFA World Club Cup, countless personal accolades and one – with the potential to make it two next week, Champions League medal.
The Dutchman’s penalty save from Nicolas Anelka three years ago today is one of the greatest moments in United’s history; as it meant a third European Cup was heading back to Manchester.
Darren Fletcher will start for the first time since March 1st after suffering a mystery virus that has disrupted the Scot’s season. Fletcher was extremely unlucky to miss out on playing in the Champions League Final against Barcelona in Rome two years ago, where it’s believed that – although the eventual outcome may not have been changed, it would’ve gave United a better chance. His harrying nature and tendency to perform well in the “big games” would’ve meant that Xavi and Andres Iniesta may not have had quite so much freedom.
Indeed, were Fletcher to prove his fitness against Blackpool and in midweek against Juventus in Gary Neville’s testimonial it would give Sir Alex Ferguson a big selection headache for the Final. The midfielder could fit into the successful 4-4-1-1 of recent weeks, but his poor passing distribution this season would be of detriment to the team were that formation selected with his presence.
Younger players like Ryan Tunnicliffe, Paul Pogba and notorious Ravel Morrison may be selected on the bench because of the suspected resting of first-team players like Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney to name but three. However, with a Youth Cup Final second-leg the following day it remains to be seen whether they will get given first-team opportunities.
Joshua King has appeared on the bench a few times since his loan return from Preston in January and will likely do so again tomorrow. £7.4m summer signing Bebe hasn’t appeared in a League game since he was a substituted substitute against Wolves in November and despite the League already having been won, it’s unlikely he will be in the squad against Blackpool.
Blackpool have had an incredible first season in the Premier League. A 4-0 opening day victory away at Wigan left them briefly at the top of the League and in a season full of them, the main highlights have been the home and away victories over Liverpool.
The early season away form that propelled them into the top-half of the Premier League has disappeared and last week’s victory over Bolton was The Tangerines’ first in eleven games. Additionally, Blackpool haven’t won away from home since December and another failure to get victory tomorrow – against a United team who’ve dropped just two points at Old Trafford all season, would result in their relegation.
On the final day in 1975, United lifted the Second Division title at Old Trafford after a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Blackpool and while a similar victory would be nice, whatever the result it’ll be party time in M16 as Nemanja Vidic gets to lift the trophy that confirms United as England’s premier club.
Referee: Mike Dean
Last five meetings:
25/01/2011 – Blackpool 2-3 United
26/04/1975 – United 4-0 Blackpool
19/10/1974 – Blackpool 0-3 United
01/05/1971 – Blackpool 1-1 United
26/09/1970 – United 1-1 Blackpool
1. van der Sar; 21. Rafael, 12. Smalling, 23. Evans, 3. Evra; 24. Fletcher, 8. Anderson, 18. Scholes; 17. Nani, 26. Obertan; 9. Berbatov.