Sky Sports to unleash Neville in time to call Wembley showpiece


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The Independent Football

The excitement around Manchester United's potential Champions League and Premier League double is such that Sky Sports are hopeful their new signing Gary Neville can start his job early to be at Wembley as co-commentator on 28 May for the final against Barcelona.

Neville, 36, who retired in February, was due to start next season but with his former club on the brink of such a momentous achievement he could start as early as Saturday when they have the chance to wrap up the club's record 19th league title against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Sky Sports have used different former players and managers to fill the role since Andy Gray's departure in January.

Having Neville alongside commentator Martin Tyler for the Champions League final would be a huge coup for Sky who would be able to call upon the insight of a man who knows as well as anyone what makes United tick. It would be a way of ending the season on a high for the broadcaster after the mid-season upheaval of the Gray-Richard Keys departures.

Neville has not played anything like as many as the minimum 10 Premier League games to get a medal when – providing United pick up one more point from their last two league games – they are presented with the trophy after their final game of the season against Blackpool at home a week on Sunday.

The club will probably request a medal for reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak which is common practice for No 2 goalkeepers who have not played the requisite 10 league games. The only other likely candidate for a medal request is Wes Brown who has featured in just seven league games this season. Gabriel Obertan (seven) will miss out. Antonio Valencia, injured for much of the season, needs just one more appearance to reach 10. Michael Owen has made 10 appearances and will qualify for his first Premier League winners' medal.

Wayne Rooney will not face any Football Association disciplinary action for his V-sign in the direction of the Chelsea fans at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Sir Alex Ferguson has defended his team against accusations that they do not match up to successful United sides of the past. Ferguson, speaking to a New York radio station, pointed out that, among other things, United are still undefeated in the Champions League this season.

He said: "Everyone has acknowledged how great a team Barcelona are but Manchester United are in this final. Everyone has said this is not a good Manchester United team, that we are not this or that.

"But we have scored more goals than anyone else. Our home form has been magnificent. We are undefeated in Europe. We are in the Champions League final and we will win the league by getting one more point. You have to put all the criticism to one side because I have to be realistic when I look at my team and ask, 'Am I satisfied?' Those players have given me everything."

In a rare reference to United's defeat to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final – which he usually refuses to discuss – Ferguson said that his side had "started off really well, then gave away a bad goal." He said: "After that, Barcelona kept the ball very well, as they always do. What we have to do is find a solution to the Xavi-Messi-Iniesta problem. Everyone is searching for that because they are outstanding footballers. [But] We have our share, too."

Five games that swung title towards Old Trafford

Manchester United all but clinched the title with Sunday's victory over Chelsea, but there were other key moments that ensured their advantage in the title race

* Man United 3-2 Liverpool (19 Sept)

A Steven Gerrard double helped Liverpool recover from 2-0 down, only for Dimitar Berbatov to complete his hat-trick with six minutes remaining

* Aston Villa 2-2 Man United (13 Nov)

United came back from two goals down to maintain their unbeaten start to the season. Late goals from Federico Macheda (81 minutes) and Nemanja Vidic (85) secured a point for the visitors.

* Blackpool 2-3 Man United (25 Jan)

Former United defender Craig Cathcart and DJ Campbell had United 2-0 down at the interval, only for Berbatov (two) and substitute Javier Hernandez to turn the game around in the last 18 minutes.

* Man United 2-1 Man City (12 Feb)

Wayne Rooney's spectacular late winner (above) helped put United's title challenge back on course, a week after their first league defeat of the season at Wolves.

* West Ham 2-4 Man United (2 April)

Trailing at the break to two Mark Noble penalties, United were indebted to a Rooney treble and late Hernandez strike.

Alex Corrigan and James Mariner