Wayne Rooney is desperate to avoid the "devastation" of Chelsea retaining the title at Manchester United's expense on Saturday. Despite prolonging their championship challenge for longer than anyone expected, thanks to a run of 10 wins in their last 11 Premiership outings, United have now hit the point of no return.
Failure to beat Jose Mourinho's men at Stamford Bridge this weekend will officially put United in Chelsea's shadow for another year.
Rooney, the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year, was in the United line-up ordered to form a guard of honour and applaud Chelsea out at Old Trafford by manager Sir Alex Ferguson last May. The England striker has no wish to be present at any more Chelsea celebration parties.
"Obviously, it's difficult now," Rooney said of a League table which requires United to win their final three games and Chelsea to lose theirs to complete the most startling comeback in English football history.
"At this moment, we are just looking to finish second and clinch that second automatic Champions' League spot but we want to go to Chelsea and win on Saturday because it would be devastating if they were to win the League against us."
United are vying for second spot with Liverpool, whose captain Steven Gerrard was voted PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.
Given their recent form, United will no doubt head to the capital feeling they could be vying for first not second. Despite already amassing 79 points this season - equal to the total achieved in their 1999 treble-winning year - United have never really recovered from an awful autumn when they picked up just nine points from seven games.
By then, Chelsea were in a clear lead and United wasted their last chance to exert any pressure over the Londoners on Good Friday when they were held at home by Sunderland when victory would have closed the gap to just four points.
The transformation partly coincided with the introduction of Louis Saha to Ferguson's starting line-up, a move which has cast major doubt over Ruud van Nistelrooy's United future.
Rooney feels competition for places has helped galvanise United. Rooney said: "There has been competition over the last few months and that is why we have done better. We've defended well as a team and the likes of Saha have come in and done well."
Rooney is still only 20, and picked up the young player trophy for the second time.
Gerrard himself won that award back in 2001, and the 25-year-old England midfielder was presented with the 2006 trophy at a gala dinner in London on Sunday night after he topped the poll voted for by his colleagues ahead of the other five candidates - Arsenal striker Thierry Henry, Rooney and Chelsea trio Joe Cole, Frank Lampard and John Terry.
For the young player award, Rooney beat off competition from Charlton striker Darren Bent, team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, Tottenham's Aaron Lennon, Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas and West Ham defender Anton Ferdinand.Reuse content