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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lippi tips United for trophy double

World Cup-winning coach Marcello Lippi is backing Sir Alex Ferguson to bring two trophies to Old Trafford because the Scot has instilled a willing work ethic in his players.

Ferguson's Manchester United side are in sight of retaining their Barclays Premier League title and also have a Champions League final to look forward to.

United will complete the first part of the exercise on Sunday should they defeat Wigan at the JJB Stadium.

Chelsea would match them on points if Bolton are beaten but there would need to be a 17-goal swing for the championship trophy to head south.

Nevertheless it is an enthralling finish to the domestic campaign and the Premier League rivals will then go head to head in the Champions League final on May 21.

Moscow will host the the first all-English showdown in Europe's top club competition.

Lippi, who led Italy to the World Cup in 2006, believes the momentum is with United.

He told 'Chelsea beat them in the league but United were not at their best.

'It was a big boost for Chelsea even if they probably know it will mean nothing because United will win their remaining league game to win the title.

'Chelsea are in good shape but I think United have a slight advantage in the final.'

Lippi is an old friend of Ferguson and believes the veteran Scottish boss has perfected the art of man-management.

While Cristiano Ronaldo has taken most of the plaudits after scoring 40 goals, the Italian claims United are strong because the players are prepared to work for each other.

Lippi said: 'People say that players make the difference and a coach counts for only 20% of a team's results.

'I don't think it's like that at all. I think today the coach is very important.

'When you are managing a number of great players, many of them from different countries with different mentalities and cultures, the personality and the character of the coach becomes crucial.

'This is the case with Ferguson. You can clearly see that every United player is ready to sacrifice himself to help the team.

'Nobody thinks for himself, everyone is focused on the team first. To have success in every competition you have to be a great manager.'

Lippi has been thoroughly impressed with the way Ronaldo has come on this season.

The Portugal winger looks a shoo-in for the FIFA World Player of the Year award after winning respective seasonal prizes from the Professional Footballers Association and the Football Writers Association.

Lippi said: 'It's difficult to imagine he can improve considering the level he has reached.

'You mustn't forget that he does everything at supersonic pace so it's natural to make some mistakes when you play at that speed.

'Maybe if he slows down his way of playing a bit he could reduce his margin of mistakes.

'But he doesn't have to do it because his major quality is to do great things at great pace.'

Roon’s fit for crunch

Wayne Rooney will be back to help Manchester United gun for the Premier League crown on Sunday. The Old Trafford star came through a tough session at their Carrington training ground yesterday and is available for the final-day trip to Wigan. Striker Roo was feared to have suffered a hernia, but a United insider said: “There was nothing Wayne could not do. He was whizzing around and flying into tackles. Not once did he wince. He’s a tough cookie and this is not going to keep him out.”
Phil Thomas, The Sun

Skipper ready and willing

Gary Neville says he is ready to do his bit for the United cause should Sir Alex Ferguson need to call on him as the Reds bid for double glory.

The skipper has struggled with a series of niggling injuries following ankle ligament damage sustained in March last year.

He returned to action in the Reds' quarter-final victory over Roma at Old Trafford, coming on a substitute for the final nine minutes.

The right-back has not been involved since, but insists he is ready and willing should he be called upon at Wigan on Sunday and in the Champions League final later this month.

"I am feeling good. I have been training and travelling with the team for the last seven or eight matches and really enjoying being back among the lads," he said.

"It is going to be difficult for the manager with the defence playing so well, and I understand that it is almost impossible for him to get me in. I totally accept that.

"The matches are too important to help players get their fitness back but I am there. I am fit and have been for six to eight weeks and if I am required or am needed at any point, I have to be ready.

"It has been a frustrating season for me. But that will all be lifted if we win the title and the Champions League. Players get injuries. The most important thing is that this club wins trophies."

Masters of our own destiny

After a long, gruelling fight for the Premier League crown, Owen Hargreaves is calling on the Reds to ready themselves for battle one more time, and clinch the title against Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

Hargreaves’ former Bayern Munich team-mate Michael Ballack claimed that, for United’s players, this would be “the longest week of their lives”. The Chelsea midfielder's claims that all the pressure is heaped on United are an attempt at psychological mind games, but Hargreaves isn’t paying much attention.

“As long as we’re controlling our destiny I don’t think we need worry too much,” he told MUTV.

“We are full of confidence. We believed we would beat West Ham because our home record is so good. Wigan have done themselves a favour by beating Aston Villa, so this game doesn’t mean a lot for them. But to us it means everything.

“We’ve got 90 minutes to play and it’s a great position to be in. We’ve had no midweek game so we’ve put in some good training and hopefully we will be ready for the weekend.”

Going into the last day of the season needing to win the league is not an alien concept for Hargreaves. Back in 2000/01, Hargreaves helped Bayern beat Schalke 04 to the Bundesliga crown in dramatic fashion on the season’s final day.

Bayern led Schalke by three points, needing a draw in their match against Hamburg to clinch the title. Schalke beat relegated Unterhaching 5-3. Bayern’s match started five minutes late after fan disruptions, but with 90 minutes gone and the score 0-0 they looked to have done enough. Then Sergej Barbarez headed Hamburg in front.

Over at Gelsenkirchen, Schalke’s fans ran onto the pitch celebrating a first title since 1958. But their jubilation lasted just three minutes and 43 seconds.

Back at the Parkstadion, defender Patrik Andersson struck a free kick through the wall and into the net – his first and only goal for the club – and sealed the title for Bayern. Three days later they beat AC Milan on penalties in the Champions League final.

“To be in this position feels comfortable for me, I’ve been there before,” says Hargreaves. “At the start of the season if somebody had offered us one game, just 90 minutes, to win the league, we would have jumped at that. We’re in a good position.

“We’ve worked so hard all season. Not just the players, the staff, and all the time and energy everyone puts in at this club. That’s what makes this a special club. So for them, to see us win the league would be a fantastic moment. We’ll go out on the pitch on Sunday and give everything we have for 90 minutes.”