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United’s turn to reply as Steve Bruce and Sunderland await


By Daniel Alston.

After last week’s victory over Tottenham, Manchester United had asked Chelsea a question. Could they pick up a tricky 3 points against Stoke? Carlo Ancelotti’s men responded with a 7-0 thumping of the Potters. This weekend, by the time United kick-off against Sunderland, Chelsea will have already played Liverpool. So can Sir Alex Ferguson & co. equal or better their title rivals result?

It’s an issue which the Red Devils boss has mentioned recently. Staggered kick-off times in the final games of the season don’t happen much across the continent, yet they exist in the English Premier League. Of course, a lot of that is to do with broadcasting revenue, which I doubt any club would object to. But it does mean that sometimes match outcomes are irrelevant or influenced.

Today Chelsea visit Anfield, with Liverpool still smarting from their midweek Europa League semi-final exit. And while all the talk has been on whether the Merseysiders will do their fiercest of rivals a favour by taking points off the table-toppers, the pressure is already there for United to get the win they need regardless.

And talking of favours, ex-Reds defender Steve Bruce insists there will be no such thing, as he sends the Mackems out against the side he captained to the Double in 1993/4.

“We seriously believe we can win. All this stuff about just because I played there for 10 years. What am I going to say to the players ‘Oh by the way lads, just forget it today’.

“There will be near 50,000 here, we’re live on telly, every man and his dog wants to be here. ‘Just let them win, will you?’ It is not going to happen.”

Bruce hasn’t beaten his old boss in 13 attempts, and this is the third time in as many years he has attempted to do so in the closing stages of the campaign.

Indeed, it was only an Anton Ferdinand own goal in injury time that stopped him ending this run at Old Trafford back in October. Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones scoring either side of a Dimitar Berbatov effort, only for the 2-2 draw to be finalised with the last unfortunate kick.

The reality of the situation is that the league could be won and lost today. If United lose and Chelsea win, the trophy returns to Stamford Bridge. Reverse results would see the Old Trafford club in pole position heading into the last weekend of the season.

And United are in their usual Championship-winning form. Perhaps not performing to their typically high standards, but late wins over Manchester City and Tottenham are hallmarks of the great comebacks and resurgent battles of years gone by.

The Stadium of Light will be a difficult environment however, with the stadium already claiming the scalps of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham this season. In fact, Sunderland’s only home defeats have been against Chelsea and Aston Villa and after an impressive campaign, they will be wanting to end their last home game with a result for the fans.

The big team news is that hitman Wayne Rooney and defender Rio Ferdinand could be fit to start, although skipper Gary Neville is likely to be out with a calf strain.

For Sunderland, former United players Kieran Richardson and Frazier Campbell look set to be in the XI, but Tottenham loanee Alan Hutton is suspended after his red card against Hull last week. Midfield enforcer Lee Cattermole and Belfast-born George McCartney could feature after their returns from injury. Dangerman and England hopeful Bent will be looking to add to his 25-goal haul.

It all kicks off at 4pm, by which time we’ll know the result of Liverpool vs Chelsea. Will the set of results see the title decided today, or will United do enough to take it to the wire? Feel free to leave your thoughts below…

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