In less than 24 hours, we could be celebrating one of the biggest achievements, if not the biggest achievement, in Manchester United’s storied history.
But to wrap up a 19th English top-flight title and set off those celebrations, United will have to earn a positive result at a venue that has been a trouble spot quite often in recent history. Considering how away form has been such a point of contention for this season, that’s only fitting, right?
With Sunday’s 2-1 win over Chelsea, United are now six points ahead of Carlo Ancelotti’s side with two matches remaining. All that’s required from here is a solitary point, and United can get the party started early by getting the necessary result tomorrow at Blackburn, who are in a fight of their own coming down to the end.
It certainly would have been ideal for United to be able to mathematically clinch the Premier League title at home against Chelsea, for multiple reasons. But if there is a place other than Old Trafford to seal the deal, Ewood Park’s not a bad place to do it since the location guarantees that there’ll be a generous amount of United supporters on hand to witness the occasion.
However, all signs point to United being made to work hard for the result they achieve, whether it’s a draw or a win. Sure, United mauled Blackburn 7-1 at Old Trafford in late November, and Rovers have won only once in their last 12 Premier League matches to find themselves in a rather perilous position.
But along with their issues with struggling away from home this season, United haven’t done all too well away from home against their local rivals over the last decade. Since Blackburn returned the top flight in 2001, United have won at Ewood Park twice in only nine league matches.
And with Blackburn currently in the thick of the relegation/survival battle, the reasonable expectation would be for them to bring their best, especially considering that their season finale is at Wolves in what could be a battle for survival. Blackburn, on 39 points, and Wolves, on 37 points, currently occupy 15th and 17th, but 15th-placed Birmingham, who’s also on 39, has a favorable home tie against Fulham this weekend, while 18th and 19th-placed Blackpool and Wigan, who are both on 36, have very winnable matches against Bolton and West Ham, respectively.
You can imagine that trio will be rooting United on tomorrow, especially Ian Holloway, and not just because the right combination of results this weekend could push Blackpool out of the bottom three. If United do indeed clinch the title tomorrow, we’ll see a weakened lineup (but not too weak, since that wouldn’t go down too well with the FA) when Blackpool visit Old Trafford next weekend, and while we’d fancy such a side to take the spoils against Blackpool at home, Holloway might like his side’s prospects a little more if United are lacking in strength and perhaps in optimal focus, what with the title already secured.
Of course, any generosity on United’s part this weekend isn’t intentional, because the objective first and last is to wrap up the title at Ewood Park, and with that objective in mind, Fergie will be fielding a strong lineup tomorrow afternoon.
That starting XI may not include Edwin van der Sar, who may receive a deserved day off after starting all eight of United’s matches over the last several hectic weeks. If EVDS is rested tomorrow, it would seem likely that he’d start against Blackpool in order to have one final appearance at Old Trafford, even if it’s only for 45 minutes. As for tomorrow though, if Fergie’s comments ring true, Tomasz Kuszczak could receive the start between the sticks, and it could well be his final United start as well, given the high probability that he’ll be leaving the club in the summer.
Everywhere else, we can expect to see many regulars, and Fergie’s comments seem to indicate that one of them would be Javier Hernandez, the man with perhaps the most impeccable timing this side of…anywhere. Dimitar Berbatov was the star against Rovers in November, scoring five goals, and thanks to that monster day, he’s in line to edge out some Argentine guy for the Premier League Golden Boot. But since then, he’s been usurped in the pecking order by Chicharito, whose first-minute haymaker against Chelsea took him to a stunning 20 goals for the season and delivered a blow from which Chelsea wouldn’t recover.
Speaking of scoring, we don’t have to score seven this time, or likely even three or four, but if we can score at least once, the chances are in our favor of at least picking up the draw that we need to wrap up the title. For all of the trouble that we’ve had winning away from home this season, we haven’t had a ton of trouble scoring, especially against the lower-placed sides.
In 14 matches against the clubs who are 13th to 20th coming into this weekend, United have scored 41 goals, 17 of those coming in seven away matches. Compounding that favorable statistic, Blackburn have failed to score multiple goals in each of their last six Premier League matches, and they haven’t scored multiple goals in a league match against United in any of the last nine such meetings.
While I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’d be doing Blackburn a favor if we have a role in sending them down to the Championship, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, since it could help their owners see the light on Steve Kean, likely eliminate the possibility of them wanting to or being able to make Roque Santa Cruz’s second – and so far goalless – stint Blackburn a permanent one. But I digress!
For our part though, taking all three points would be a convincing way to wrap up the championship. After the last couple of performances, I feel confident that we’ll come out with that intent, and I feel confident that we’ll come out with that result as well.
Prediction: Blackburn 0-2 Manchester United
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