THEY may have won the league but there is no danger of Manchester United taking it easy against Blackpool.
As much as Sir Alex Ferguson admires the work Ian Holloway has done at Bloomfield Road, he has already expressed the desire to end the Reds’ campaign with victory in front of their own fans.
It would cap yet another remarkable season for United, who continued their relentless domination of English football under Ferguson when they racked up a 19th English title (overtaking Liverpool as the most successful club in English League history) at Blackburn last weekend – just hours before their neighbours City won the FA Cup.
Typical United – they couldn’t let their local rivals have even the briefest of moments in the sun.
Ferguson’s men have been almost flawless at Old Trafford this term, dropping only two points in 18 games – West Brom came back from two down to draw there 2-2 in October.
But there is a glimmer of hope. United face Barcelona in the Champions League final just six days after Sunday’s encounter, which means Ferguson will almost certainly rest key players.
However, if any of the managers fighting relegation are worried about United not trying, they needn’t.
“We have a responsibility to make sure we are fair to all clubs who are struggling against relegation,” promised Ferguson. “Manchester United will try to win on Sunday, there is no doubt about that.”
This is not the first time the Red Devils have gone into the final game of the season facing a relegation-threatened side.
In 2009, Ferguson’s men went to the KC Stadium to face Hull City, who were desperate for a result to retain their top flight status. Ironically, United were preparing for a Champions League final against Barcelona.
The lost the European Cup 2-0 to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, but they showed Hull no mercy, winning 1-0. Fortunately for Hull, other results went their way and they survived.
On the final day in 2007, Ferguson’s men played West Ham at Old Trafford, with the Hammers needing a result to avoid relegation.
Famously, West Ham came up trumps thanks to a Carlos Tevez strike. United had nothing to play for that day, having been crowned champions and eliminated from the Champions League.
Although Ferguson is focused on beating Blackpool, Rio Ferdinand has been thinking about Barca.
“We came off the pitch last time knowing we hadn’t really done ourselves justice,” said Ferdinand, “so we need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Then again, he added: “But we can’t think about that until Blackpool are out of the way.”
Even if United field a weakened side, they remain a force to be reckoned with.
Dimitar Berbatov is likely to start alongside Michael Owen.
Berbatov, the Premier League’s joint top scorer with Tevez on 21, hit the winner at Bloomfield Road in January, when the Reds roared back to win from 2-0 down.
Berbatov might have struggled to get into the side recently because of the form of Javier Hernandez, but he has an unerring ability to score crucial goals and has netted the most winners in the Premier League this season (seven).
Fergie’s other so-called reserves include the likes of £10m Chris Smalling and the electric Nani, as well as Paul Scholes – one of the greatest ever English-born midfielders.
It will be interesting to see if Edwin van der Sar is selected in goal for what would be his final ever match at Old Trafford.
Pool fans would much prefer to see Tomasz Kuszczak between the posts. The Pole was hardly inspiring at Blackburn last weekend. Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell and co would love to test him further.