Fergie puts Carlo on the couch at United and Chelsea head for Super Sunday MCMXXVIII
JUST in case you thought Sir Alex Ferguson, at 68, is considering the pipe and bright red slippers of retirement, here’s the Manchester United manager’s verbal volley before the vital Liverpool v Chelsea showdown on Sunday.
Desperately needing the ailing Reds to deny the blistering Blues, the greatest living Scotsman reminded the once-mighty Merseysiders of their responsibilities: "Great clubs don't throw traditions away for one game. They've been in 11 European finals and won 18 titles.
"Liverpool fans know that. Do you think they want to go home saying their players capitulated and they didn't try?"
Nothing quite like the psychologically scintillating Fergie in full flow is there? They kick off at Anfield at 1.30pm on what Sky are calling Super Sunday MCMXVIII, and United – with Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand both back in training today - get underway against Sunderland at 4pm.
As favourites Chelsea are a point ahead, Fergie needs his arch-rivals Liverpool to get over their gut-wrenching Europa League semi-final defeat against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. And quick.
Liverpool fans may feel slightly queasy about all this. If their side does nick a point against the leaders on Sunday, it will give United every chance of overhauling Liverpool’s record of 18 League titles, which they currently hold jointly with the Red Devils.
United end their season next week against visiting sacrificial lambs Stoke, Chelsea havegot Wigan to wallop at the Bridge. Neither are expected to slip up on the final day. Whoever tops the table on Sunday night will surely go on to snaffle the Premier League trophy.
But Rafa Benitez, under huge pressure from trophy-seeking fans and coach-seekingJuventus, knows Champions League qualification is still faintly possible. They are two points behind fourth-placed Spurs, who have a game in hand.
In case anybody had missed this point, Sir Alex added: “It is Rafa’s job to prepare his players. It was difficult for me after we lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League but you have to do it. It’s your job. You can't wallow in pit.”
Pure footballing prose of the highest order isn’t it? Wallow it pit? Never! You can just see the Liverpool players bristling at Fergie’s flippancy, leaping out of their beds on Sunday, shouting: "For God! For Liverpool! For Fergie!"
This weekend's Soccer Sabbath bears remarkable similarities to one of Sky’s early Super Sundays (XXVII?) way back in 1995. Then, Liverpool did United a favour – in front of near-silent fans – by beating Blackburn. But United, needing to beat West Ham to snatch the title, didn’t quite live up to their end of the bargain and slipped up too. Rovers won it on a defeat, I can still see Kenny Dalglish’s misery turn to joy when the news filtered through.
The ageless Fergie recalls: "We were depending on Liverpool producing that day - and they did. But there were a lot of English players in their team that day and they understood the history of Liverpool FC.
"But I don't think there has been such a swing that the current players do not understand the history of Liverpool."
What are Chelsea to make of all this? Fergie exhorting Liverpool to tear Chelsea apart while his old mate Steve Bruce, an Old Trafford legend, will be all smiles when hisSunderland trot out against United at the Stadium of Light on Sunday with only mid-table placement to worry about.
Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti, who saw his side hammer Stoke 7-0 last week, was simply not entering into the spirit of Fergie’s psychological warfare. The Italian has lost a SerieA title from a much better position. He has also clinched them from worse. He said: "I think that Sunderland will do their best to beat United and Liverpool will do the same against us.”
Ho-hum. Yawn. Thanks Carlo. How about: “Steve Bruce won’t be able to sleep at night if he doesn’t send Sunderland out with bazookas and body armour”? Do you need a spin doctor or what?
There’s more from careless Carlo, try to stay awake: "We have to pay attention because Liverpool it's very difficult to win at Anfield, but we have to try. With two victories we can be champions, so we have to focus on our game and not think about Sunderland's result."
Talk about the blindingly obvious. If the title was awarded on managerial manipulation,Fergie would win it hands down. But then he normally does.
All of which leaves Liverpool and their fans in something of a quandary. Their goalkeeper Jose Reina grumbled: “I don't play for United, I play for my team and my supporters.
"I don't care what Manchester do. I will play to win so we still have a chance of fourth place. We will try to deliver a last home win of the season."
Personally, I’d be amazed if Chelsea slip up against Liverpool or Wigan. I’d be even more surprised if United don’t take six points from Sunderland and Stoke. Stranger things have happened – and they did back in 1995.
Sit back and enjoy Super Sunday - but if Liverpool score, you might be in for the quietest goal celebration Anfield has witnessed in 15 years.