Fergie out to end eight years of Chelsea blues
Alex Ferguson has claimed that Manchester United's trip to Chelsea on Sunday cannot come quickly enough for the Premier League leaders, billing the Stamford Bridge clash a "massive game".
United would open up a six-point lead over the champions, with a game in hand at Blackpool next month, if they end their eight-year winless streak at Chelsea. Chelsea's recent slump has led to uncertainty over the future of double-winning manager Carlo Ancelotti and anything but a victory for the home side is only likely to intensify the pressure on him.
With United still unbeaten in the league, Ferguson said his players are determined to end a dismal run of six defeats and four draws in their past 10 visits to Chelsea in all competitions since April 2002.
Ferguson said Chelsea "is a massive game now. We used to have a terrific record at Chelsea, but not so much over the last few years and we haven't won there for eight years.
"It's a big game for us and we'll be ready for it. We've got good players and they have all had big-game experience for years now. Their experience is very important and the desire is still there with this club."
Chelsea's impressive start to the season, in which they scored 21 goals in five successive victories before a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, has been followed by a run of three defeats, three draws and one win from their last seven league games.
The club's decision to offload seasoned campaigners such as Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Juliano Belletti and replace them with inexperienced youngsters has led to criticism that Ancelotti's squad is now being exposed as too thin to compete for major trophies.
But having consistently phased out senior players in favour of youth at Old Trafford, Ferguson insisted Chelsea's move towards younger players is a good thing for the club.
"Chelsea have been gradually introducing one or two younger players into their squad, so maybe that's why (results have been erratic)," he said.
"Ballack's contract came to an end, Belletti's contract came to an end and they have been replacing these players with younger ones such as (Daniel) Sturridge and (Josh) McEachran. Their plan was always to start introducing younger players and I think that's a good thing, but it can backfire if you get injuries (without a big squad)."
Ji-Sung Park, United's goalscorer in the 1-0 victory against Arsenal on Monday, is set to retain his starting spot against Chelsea.
Ferguson has admitted to being "disappointed" by the prospect of losing the midfielder for a month due to his involvement with South Korea in next month's Asian Cup in Qatar.
But with the Koreans aiming to win their first continental title since 1960, national coach Cho-Kwang Rae has insisted that there is no prospect of Park's departure for Qatar being delayed.
"I feel regret that I have to call him up at the critical moment for Manchester United. However, this Asian Cup has a special meaning for all Korean fans. We need Ji-Sung in order to lift the trophy," Cho said.
"Ji-Sung is going to join us on December 27. He will observe the Asian Cup's call-up rule -- players needs to join their national teams at least two weeks before the tournament."
Park, who has won 94 caps for South Korea, has intimated that he may retire from international football following the Asian Cup, but Cho insisted his presence in Qatar is crucial for the country.
"Recently, Ji-Sung has been showing his best performances since he joined United," he said. "I am convinced his current in-form condition will be the biggest asset to our team in the Asian Cup. He will make it happen." (© Daily Telegraph, London)