LONDON: Paul Scholes has warned his Manchester United teammates that their title ambitions could be dead and buried if they fail to beat Chelsea at Old Trafford today.
The England midfielder regards the showdown with Claudio Ranieri’s side as a must-win match if United are to keep the pressure on Arsenal, who will not play until tomorrow’s Highbury clash with struggling West Ham but start the weekend five points clear.
After setbacks at Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough over Christmas, United have regained their momentum with wins over Birmingham City, Sunderland and West Bromwich Albion.
But Scholes believes the winning run has to be sustained if United are to seriously challenge an Arsenal team that look to be running back into form after grinding out some tough wins over the end-of-year period.
“If we are going to catch up on Arsenal then we are going to have to put another 10-game run together where we just win every match and hopefully see where that takes us,” Scholes said.
“So Saturday is a massive game for us. We have to beat them. A draw is not good enough.”
While Scholes clearly regards Arsenal as the team to beat, United manager Alex Ferguson believes the title race is a four-horse affair with Newcastle in a position to force their way into the reckoning.
Newcastle entertain Manchester City today knowing that a win, combined with defeat for Chelsea, will lift them into third place with a game in hand over the two teams above them.
Ferguson also played down the significance of Arsenal’s lead.
“Five points may seem a lot but we were 12 points ahead of them five years ago and they overtook us,” the Scot recalled.
“We’ve also had the experience of being behind and overtaking Newcastle. So it is possible. What we need to get is consistency.
“Obviously I would like to be first but we have done well to get where we are and it is about where I expected to be after what we’ve been through with injuries.
“I have said many times it’s a very tough league this year and they don’t come much tougher than Chelsea this Saturday.”
Ferguson has Scholes’ international colleague Nicky Butt available again after a midweek outing with the reserves.
But Butt, who has spent three months sidelined with an ankle injury, is unlikely to be risked with club captain Roy Keane, Juan Veron and Scholes all available.
Liverpool, meanwhile, will be hoping some of Ian Rush’s magical goal touch will have rubbed off on their strike force in time for their difficult trip to Southampton.
The Anfield legend this week began working with Michael Owen and company as a strikers’ coach in a bid to help the club end a miserable run which has left their season in ruins.
After taking just five points from their last 11 games, Liverpool’s chances of clinching a top four place and a place in next season’s lucrative Champions League are receding rapidly.
Ironically, one of the teams who could deprive them of a place at Europe’s top table are Southampton, whose renaissance under Gordon Strachan has hoisted them to fifth.
James Beattie’s 15 Premier League goals have been a crucial factor in the club’s unexpected success this season and the blond striker will have added incentive to add to his tally today.
England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson is expected to be in the crowd to assess whether or not Beattie is ready for a call-up for next month’s international friendly against Australia. – AFP