Ferguson backs 'great' United to rise to challenge of Barcelona

Blackburn 1 Manchester United 1: Champions focus on European final after draw at Blackburn secures 19th domestic title
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The Independent Football

It does not matter how good this Manchester United side are; they were better than any of their rivals. They were less fragile than Arsenal. They were more of a team than Manchester City and when they faced the side that is in many ways most like themselves, they beat Chelsea three times out of four.

However, perhaps it was appropriate that the presentation of the Premier League trophy should be delayed until the final home game of the season.

As Sir Alex Ferguson admitted, this is a championship that has been won at Old Trafford and, before setting off for Blackburn, the Manchester United manager wondered aloud if any team in Europe could better his home record.

Only Porto, managed by Jose Mourinho's protege, Andre Villas Boas, can boast statistics to compare with United's two points dropped all season. Even Barcelona have lost in the Nou Camp, to a little team that trades under the very big name of Hercules, and should Manchester United overcome them in the European Cup final, then all debate on the quality of this side will cease. They will be transformed from journeymen to immortals.

"Exactly," said Ferguson. "And that is their challenge at Wembley. There is nothing wrong with accepting challenges; we are good at that. It doesn't matter where they come from, you have to stand up to the mark. We have shown resilience and our home form has been great. I think we will be OK.

"They don't give in; that is their great quality. There are good ages in the team, a lot of good legs and a lot of speed. I know we are playing a terrific team in Barcelona, but would you back against us in a big way? I don't think you would."

However, when Ferguson was asked to name a match that had swung the season towards Old Trafford, he pointed to one of the five away games that Manchester United won this season, the 4-2 victory at West Ham. "We were 2-0 down at half-time and that put the shits up a lot of them – me included," he laughed.

This match was not remotely in that class. It was another low-gear, rather uninspired Manchester United away performance and Ferguson confessed that until Javier Hernandez was brought down by Paul Robinson, he could not envisage how his team would break Blackburn down.

Once Wayne Rooney, whose penalty betrayed a host of nerves, scored, the two teams settled on a 1-1 draw. It guaranteed United the title and it probably ensured Blackburn's survival. As United's players walked round Ewood Park holding a plastic Premier League trophy in place of the real thing, a microphone was held in front of Dimitar Berbatov, who was reminded that he was still the competition's leading scorer.

So complete has been his eclipse that it seems astonishing to repeat the fact, and once more he was employed as a bit-part player. Wembley will be the elegant Bulgarian's third European Cup final and, like the previous two, he will almost certainly view the opening exchanges from the bench.

Like Tomasz Kuszczak, who was standing in for Edwin van der Sar and who seemed overcome by the occasion, you wonder where he will be in August. Ferguson always says that the moment of triumph "goes quickly away from me" and even in Ewood Park's press room, he was looking forward.

Hernandez, the man who pushed Berbatov to the sidelines, had one taste of winning a championship before. As that was with Chivas Guadalajara, where he was usually a substitute, the emotion was not quite the same. "No, I never imagined it," he said. "Of course, I imagined winning the Premier League but not playing lots of games, scoring lots of goals and being part of this great team."

Ferguson thought that neither Rooney nor Hernandez played particularly well at Blackburn. "I don't think we did that well anywhere on the pitch," he said. "It was a hard game and you could see the tension all through the second half.

"But, usually, Rooney and Hernandez have terrific qualities when it comes to playing against anyone. You saw that last week against Chelsea in a game that really mattered against a team that came to Old Trafford as defending champions and who have been our strongest challengers for the last six years."

Ferguson, who won his first championship with Aberdeen 31 years ago, mentally ran through the list of other Manchester United teams that had captured silverware. The 1994 vintage, the team of "warriors" – Schmeichel, Ince, Hughes, Bruce, Pallister, Keane and Cantona – will probably always remain his favourite.

And he did not think this team compared to the history boys who had won the treble. "No, it's nothing like the treble season, let's not get carried away."

In 1999 they had come to Ewood late in the season and relegated Blackburn with a goalless draw. The fact that they were managed by Brian Kidd, who had left Ferguson's side to go to Blackburn five months before, gave their post-match meeting a certain frostiness.

Kidd was cheerful, "putting on a front after his momentous decision to walk away from all the success he enjoyed with us," Ferguson noted. His relations with Blackburn's current manager, Steve Kean, have been cool in the wake of the dismissal of Sam Allardyce, one of Ferguson's closest friends in the game.

Kean, however, has all but fulfilled his brief, which was to keep Blackburn in the Premier League; and he did so by outplaying Manchester United for much of this game.

However, as they took their leave of Ewood for another season, the Blackburn goodbyes were washed away by the celebrations elsewhere on the pitch – strangers in their own home.

Scorers: Blackburn Emerton 20. Manchester United Rooney (pen) 73. Substitutes: Blackburn Pedersen (Hoilett, 58), Dunn (J Jones, 73), Andrews (Samba, 77). Manchester United Scholes (Fabio, 62), Berbatov (Nani, 80). Booked: Blackburn Salgado, J Jones, Nzonzi.

Man of the match Olsson. Match rating 7/10.

Possession: Blackburn 41% Man Utd 59%. Attempts on target: Blackburn 2 Man Utd 4. Referee P Dowd (Staffs). Att 29,867.