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Martin Samuel: Sir Alex Ferguson hasn't just knocked Liverpool off their perch...

09 May 2011 01:40:10

Martin Samuel: Sir Alex Ferguson hasn't just knocked Liverpool off their perch...

Share The better team won the match and the best team will win the league. The confirmation of Manchester United's 19th title victory may be delayed until Saturday, at least, but the evidence of its impending arrival is irrefutable. If Chelsea are their greatest rivals this season, as the league table suggests, then United have proved themselves superior, again and again and again. Party time: Sir Alex Ferguson elebrates at full time with first-team coach Rene Meulensteen There have been four meetings between the teams this season and United have won three and deserved to win a fourth. It was the memory of that game - the league match at Stamford Bridge on March 1 - that made Sir Alex Ferguson so anxious before the game, attempting to influence even random factors by applying pressure to Howard Webb, the referee. He need not have worried. Bad luck can curse the best of teams, but United have had the beating of their rivals all the way this season, and having got the breaks once through a poor performance by Martin Atkinson, Chelsea have since been left to fend for themselves, and have come up short. Front to back, United were on their game and superior yesterday. Edwin van der Sar made big saves at vital times, Nemanja Vidic scored and was outstanding in his containment of Didier Drogba, Antonio Valencia and Park Ji-sung tireless on the flanks, Michael Carrick an intelligent passing and screening presence in midfield. Perfect start: Hernandez puts United ahead after 36 seconds Javier Hernandez took his opening goal superbly after just 36 seconds when some players would have been raw with surprise and nerves, while Wayne Rooney is back to his best, and as potent as that statement suggests. 'He could have had six,' said a wide-eyed Ferguson, and that would certainly have taken the tension out of the place, particularly when Chelsea scored with 22 minutes remaining. And then there is Ryan Giggs. He has been by Ferguson's side as the Manchester United manager has dismantled Liverpool's record of 18 titles, piece by piece. The mission is on the verge of completion now, such as it ever was. Heads we win: Vidic takes advantage of some shoddy defending to head home the second It is a myth that Ferguson stated his aim to knock Liverpool off their perch on arrival in Manchester in 1986. He would have been placed on the first bus to the asylum at Cheadle Royal had he talked of overtaking them from a base of just seven titles. He made that statement much later, when United's superiority was acknowledged, saying that removing Liverpool from the lofty heights was his supreme achievement. Indeed, he has not just knocked Anfield from its perch, as intended, but let a great big tabby cat loose in the cage, too, scattering feathers and pieces of carcass everywhere. So it was fitting that Giggs, the sole survivor from the first of what will be 12 titles, has risen to the occasion so consistently in this season, the one in which Liverpool's record will surely now be surpassed. Brothers in arms: Vidic and Rio Ferdinand celebrate the winner - and another United title Ferguson says United will never see another like Giggs, though the same could be said of the manager, particularly now there are no new worlds to conquer, domestically at least. What remains for Ferguson - who has already announced his intention to stay through the 2011-12 season, no doubt to the chagrin of his contemporaries, particularly those who fancy jumping into his shoes - is Europe, beginning with the Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley later this month. The Spaniards are clear favourites but play like this and who knows? United have the attacking capability to worry any opponent and if Barcelona have a weakness, it is at the back. Watching the way this match was won, the thought that Ferguson should exercise caution, perhaps stretch five across midfield, seems more counter-productive than ever. Rooney and Hernandez are an exceptional partnership and two up front suits this United team. The potential return of Darren Fletcher, the man Ferguson relies upon to break up the play in big matches, is intriguing, but increasingly the majority of the XI that defeated Chelsea on Sunday present a flawless case for inclusion. Up for the challenge: United's Park Ji-Sung holds off Florent Malouda Time and again, they display the energy and verve to place United on the front foot, where they should be. Chelsea were the team who had to win yesterday, yet it was United who started with a compelling positivity, the trademark of Ferguson's approach to the biggest matches. Simply, he blew Chelsea away before half-time. The visitors clawed a goal back to add a degree of edginess to the final exchanges, but that was the least that could be expected, considering the occasion. Perhaps it would have been different had Frank Lampard been fit throughout the season, claiming his familiar tally of 20 goals from midfield, but Chelsea now trail United by six points with two games remaining, which is about right. Where does this sit in Ferguson's achievements at Old Trafford? Certainly, it is up there. Under control: Rooney gets the better of Ivanovic This team have received less credit than they deserve, and their away record is poor by comparison with recent champions, but they have faced down adversity throughout much of the season. Rooney was a lost soul for much of the campaign, while Ferdinand and Vidic have only been together at the back for half the season. Valencia broke a leg, Fletcher contracted a debilitating virus and Paul Scholes did not play for two months between November 24 and January 25. Every team suffer injuries but having surrendered the league without Cristiano Ronaldo last season, there was no reason to believe United could cope with his continued loss, plus injuries to their most important individual, and wrest the prize back from Chelsea. Perhaps that is why even Ferguson appeared a little emotional at the final whistle, bowing to the Stretford End before leaving the field, as if thanking them for their belief. In the end, belief was what pulled United through, the plain fact that this group of players refused to be cowed by their limitations, indeed exceeding all expectations with their Wembley date on May 28. Contrasting fortunes: Torres (left) has struggled, while Rooney (right) has shown up in the big games When Ferguson speaks of this team it is their determination that he salutes, their work-rate, their refusal to lie down. He knows he has had better groups, more gifted individuals, the odd unstoppable force such as Roy Keane. What sets this band apart is sheer will. Rooney is now offering the sprinkling of stardust but just two points dropped at home all season - against West Bromwich Albion in October - is as much a testament to United's resolve as their excellence. So what now for Carlo Ancelotti and Chelsea? It seems preposterous that he could lose his job having run Manchester United to the final two games of the season - lose at Blackburn and it could still be a little tense, even if defeat at home by Blackpool on the final Sunday is scarcely conceivable - yet that is the precedent at Stamford Bridge. Crucified: Despite winning the double last season, Ancelotti has no silverware this season In any rational world, Ancelotti's failure is surely balanced by his extravagant success in his first year, but when has logic ever entered into matters at Stamford Bridge? Managers who do not win the league for Roman Abramovich, the owner, do not last long. Jose Mourinho made it into the first months of the next season, but Claudio Ranieri and Avram Grant were sacked in the summer and Luiz Felipe Scolari did not even get that far before being replaced by a caretaker, Guus Hiddink. Ancelotti, having delivered Chelsea's first Double in his debut season, has now completed a campaign of equal rarity: one that ended without a trophy. Grant was similarly bereft in 2008, as was Ranieri in 2004 and we know what happened next. Ancelotti is universally popular, respected by his fellow coaches, admired by supporters and liked by his players, but that may count for little, too. We know what the penalty is for perceived underachievement since Abramovich has been in charge. No more Mr Nice Guy.  Watch all the Premier League goals every week on our brilliant video playerManchester United 2 Chelsea 1: Title all but decided as Blues limp out of race with a whimperReplacing Fergie will be United's toughest task, insists NevilleAll the latest Manchester United FC news, features and opinionAll the latest Chelsea FC news, features and opinion  Explore more:People: Paul Scholes, Alex Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, Antonio Valencia, Edwin Van Der Sar, Michael Carrick, Jose Mourinho, Darren Fletcher, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nemanja Vidic, Roy Keane, Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Park Ji-sung, Roman Abramovich, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti, Martin Atkinson Places: Barcelona, Liverpool, Manchester, Europe


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