Fergie throws down 'history' gauntlet at gates of Anfield
Alex Ferguson measures everything he says, mindful of the importance of placing the correct emphasis on every word, yet he might just have missed the irony in his call for Liverpool "not to throw their history away" by easing Chelsea's path to victory at Anfield tomorrow.
Ferguson said he was "confident" Liverpool would be trying. "Great clubs don't throw their history away, they don't throw their traditions away for one game."
The United manager knew exactly what he was doing, defying the present team to diminish their predecessors' memory by offering Chelsea a leg-up towards the title and thereby keeping the trophy out of United's clutches.
But if Liverpool answer Ferguson's call and deny Chelsea victory, then Rafael Benitez's players will be helping to erase the club's name from the history books anyway by nudging United towards their 19th title -- a record that would eclipse Liverpool's 18.
Little wonder that the Kop will be unusually muted when Benitez's team trot out against Chelsea. It is a no-win situation for Liverpool and their supporters but, perversely, Ferguson would not have United's fate in the hands of any other club.
In 1995, United's century-old rivals almost sent the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford by defeating Blackburn, managed by Liverpool icon Kenny Dalglish, on the final day of the season. Liverpool did their bit, only for United to falter at West Ham.
History, tradition and a respect for the integrity of competition.
All three are ingrained in Liverpool's psyche, which is why Ferguson is content to trust Benitez's players ahead of United's 4.0 kick-off against Sunderland on Wearside.
"In 1995, it was exactly the same, the similarities were there. We depended and hoped on Liverpool producing and we got that.
"Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, talked to me and said, 'You have to earn the right to win the title' and that stands today.
"OK, there were a lot of English players in that Liverpool team at the time and they understood the traditions of the club, but I don't think there has been such a swing that the players don't understand the history of Liverpool.
"They have been in 11 European finals and have won 18 titles. That is a fantastic history and you don't throw that away.
"Do you think their fans want to go home saying that their team capitulated and didn't even try? Of course not."
While events at Anfield tomorrow are only part of the story for United, the outcome of Liverpool's 1.30 kick-off against Chelsea will be an overriding factor in the importance of their clash with Sunderland.
A Chelsea victory -- their first in the league at Anfield since October 2005 -- would leave Carlo Ancelotti's team requiring a win at home to Wigan on the final day. However, a defeat or a draw would leave United needing victories against Sunderland and Stoke to confirm their fourth successive title. In the unlikely event of Chelsea also losing at home to Wigan, United would not need to win both their games.
Ferguson concedes, however, that Liverpool's extra-time Europa League elimination against Atletico Madrid, with the killer blow delivered by former United forward Diego Forlan, could benefit Chelsea.
Ferguson, who confirmed that captain Gary Neville had signed a new one-year contract, said: "We would have preferred Liverpool to play for 90 minutes and I have always said that I don't think teams get the proper help when they are in Europe.
"To have to play a lunchtime kick-off after a Thursday game, to me, is not fair to the English teams and it happens time and time again. But it's Rafa's job to lift his players."
Wayne Rooney, who returned to training yesterday, is likely to face Sunderland, but Ferguson warned against any assumption that United can win easily on Wearside.
"Sunderland are finishing the season in good form," he said. "It's one thing saying that we are hoping Liverpool do us a turn because it is their last home game of the season, but it is Sunderland's last home game too and we've got to face a team that is in good form." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Manchester United v Sunderland, Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrow, 4.0