Sir Alex Ferguson last night expressed his disbelief that he finally stands on the brink of overhauling Liverpool's record 18 titles to become "the most successful team in the country in terms of championship victories".
Manchester United's 2-1 win over Chelsea leaves Ferguson needing only a point from his side's last two league matches and he disclosed that his players will this week begin working on how to overcome Barcelona in the Champions League final, with Carlo Ancelotti conceding that a 19th championship is heading to Old Trafford.
"It's fantastic being the most successful team," said Ferguson, whose side had only seven championships when he arrived in November, 1986. "As soon as that one [Ferguson's first] in 1992, the door opened to us. It is an incredible achievement."
He would "not have believed" overhauling Liverpool, he added. Ferguson admitted to some anxiety: "All those poor souls in the stands biting their nails and having a heart attack and I was one of them," he said, grinning, while remaining pragmatic ahead of the away trip to Blackburn on Saturday, with Blackpool at Old Trafford a week later: "You have to do your job."
But with Chelsea needing all three points, Ferguson knew from the moment of Javier Hernandez's goal after 37 seconds that he was on the way to the 12th title of nearly 25 years at the United helm.
The Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti insisted last night that he retained some hope of staying at Stamford Bridge, despite the sense that the meeting he will have with chief executive Ron Gourlay after the end of the league campaign will be his last.
"You know my position. I have another year of contract. I would like to stay but the club will take a decision at the end of the season I accept the decision. We wait and see. We will arrange a meeting after the end of the season," he said.
Ferguson railed against refereeing decisions until the end, with Frank Lampard's apparent handball from Antonio Valencia's 53rd-minute cross prompting one of a number of penalty appeals he thought should have been awarded to United.
"There were clear penalties kicks," Ferguson said. "If we were going to get the title we didn't need referees to get us there."
But United can count themselves fortunate that Wayne Rooney was not dismissed at the end of the first half for making a V-sign at Chelsea fans who verbally abused him after he went down to Branislav Ivanovic's tackle.
Rooney had been booked after a collision with David Luiz minutes earlier and the response to supporters could have constituted a second offence. Referee Howard Webb did not appear to see Rooney's gesture and the Football Association is expected to view footage of it if the official does make it part of his report into the game.
Ferguson's reflection on a title race he feels has been "finalised" by yesterday's result, included his observation that Chelsea and Arsenal have become United's prime title competitors. "For the last 17 or 18 years it's been [those two] and we have had to look to them as the main challengers," he said.
But Liverpool are the side whose record he has always wanted to reel in. Ever since Bob Paisley's side defeated his Aberdeen team in 1980 he has seen their record as the one to beat. Although yesterday's display was not vintage, Ancelotti (above) acknowledged United had been the better side over the course of the season.
"Manchester United played better than us and deserved to win this game; they deserved to win the title," he said.
"We have another two games, we want to attain second place in the table and finish the season well. I am honest to say that Chelsea didn't do its best this season but sometimes it can happen. Last year [when Chelsea won the Double] was a fantastic season. This year was a bit different. I don't know [why] really. I don't know this. I don't known what the owners think about the season. My opinion is we could do better. But we need more time to explain how we can do better."
Ryan Giggs, United's supreme player again, said: "Mathematically, it's not finished. We will try to get it done as soon as possible. Blackburn is a tough place to go but I'm sure we will have a lot of fans going for that won."
Giggs was equally incredulous that he, too, should be on the brink of a 12th title and surpass Liverpool. "It's a great achievement by the team and manager to haul back his rivals from the 70s, 80s and 90s. To do that would be special."
The omission of Patrice Evra, with a thigh injury, and Darren Fletcher, who is still getting back to full fitness after a virus, create anxiety for United, as neither is a player Ferguson will want to be without against Barcelona in the Champions League final.
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