Manchester United have the opportunity to claim a 20th league title in front of their home fans if they can beat relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Monday.
Reclaiming the Premier League title has long looked a matter of when rather than if for United, but champions Manchester City’s defeat to Tottenham on Sunday has meant that it can now be wrapped-up with four matches of the season still to play after tonight.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believes the manner in which they lost the title last season, courtesy of an injury-time goal by Manchester City on the final day, has spurred his side on for their relentless surge toward the championship this time around.
“I think it was a big job to do," he said, according to Manchester United’s official Web site. "The way we lost it helped us really and with the fact it was City, it gave us an incentive and you’ve got to admire the focus we’ve shown this season. There has been great focus. Our resilience and the consistency has been good. Like all previous teams, they never give in and that’s a fact.”
With winning the league now a formality, Ferguson looks set to keep his players motivated by the target of eclipsing the record points haul in the Premier League attained by Chelsea. United will need to win all five of their remaining games to surpass Chelsea’s mark of 95.
"It’s not beyond the team," Ferguson explained. "I don’t think it is at all. You’re asking can Manchester United win five games in a row. How many times have we done that? It’s not beyond us but I think it’s about the way we approach it."
While the match has significant implications at the top of the table, it could also be hugely important for the situation at the bottom. Aston Villa currently sit one spot and three points out of the relegation zone and must surely be ruing the extra incentive that their opponents now have to get a win on Monday.
However, Villa manager Paul Lambert is in no mood to merely go to Old Trafford to be sacrificial lambs in a title coronation.
"It's fantastic,” Lambert said, according to Aston Villa’s official website. “Going up there to an arena like Old Trafford will be brilliant.
"But you don't want to go up there and just make up the numbers.
"We'll go up there and try to win the game. We're up against probably the champions-elect. It's a great place to go and play. But we will go there and make a good game of it.”
Lambert is expected to be able to call upon Gabriel Agbonlahor after the forward missed last week’s draw with Fulham with a groin injury.
United winger Ashley Young will be unable to face his former club, having been ruled out for the rest of the season with an ankle injury. Paul Scholes also remains on the sidelines.
Manchester United (probable)
G: De Gea
D: Rafael, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra
Valencia, Rooney, Kagawa
F: Van Persie
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Lowton, Vlaar, Baker, Bennett
M: Westwood, Delph
Weimann, N’Zogbia, Agbonlahor
Prediction: Manchester United have been far from exhilarating in recent weeks and are moving toward the title more through mental strength than overwhelming opponents with the quality of their play. The desire to claim the tile in front of their own fans should ensure strong focus on Monday and, while there may be little free-flowing soccer, that should be enough to beat a youthful Villa team.
Manchester United 2-0 Aston Villa
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off from Old Trafford at 3 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.