Ferguson predicts title race will go to the wire
United manager to relish battle with London clubs, but eyes firmly fixed on beating Bolton
Time, experience and success, it seems, have done nothing to dull Alex Ferguson's attention to detail or the anxiety he feels during the intensity of the title run-in, the period he once referred to as "squeaky bum time".
The Manchester United manager has sat down with the fixture list in one hand and a calculator in the other, working out the permutations of the most closely fought championship race for years.
With United leading Chelsea by a point and Arsenal by two with seven games remaining, Ferguson is convinced the title race will be decided on the final day of the season for only the fifth time since the inception of the Premier League, the thought of which makes the Scot's stomach churn.
"I'm trying to work out the run-ins and what the eventuality could be, and I can't see anything other than possibly the last game, unless somebody blows up," Ferguson said before his team's league match against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium this evening.
"Arsenal have got Fulham at home (on the final day) and Chelsea are at home to Wigan so all three of us are at home. If we have to win our home game against Stoke City (to win the title), I'd be quite happy with that. The other two will be saying the same thing."
Ferguson has triumphed on the past three occasions the title race has been decided on the final day of the season, having seen his team miss out to Blackburn Rovers in such circumstances during the 1994-95 campaign.
But despite that, and the statistic that United have won 11 of the past 17 league titles, including the past three, the manager admits to getting decidedly hot under the collar during the run-in.
"Some people are relaxed about the game and don't show great emotions, but they still care," he said. "Deep down, they are probably turning inside out like the rest of us because that is what the game does to you.
"Managers are subject to that more than anyone -- that uncertainty about winning a game, that anxiety, that apprehension about every game you play in simply because the result is so important to you."
The hours before kick-off are the most lonely and uncomfortable for Ferguson.
"It's probably that time when the players are doing the warm-up that you're sort of on your own in a sense," he said. "Your staff are out doing their jobs. It's all right at home because you have your office, but when you're away from home, there's always that killing time, walking about and sitting in your dressing room or whatever.
"We're all the same, whether you're at the top of the league or the bottom of the league."
With United not playing Bolton until later in the day, Arsenal and Chelsea will leapfrog the leaders should they beat Birmingham City and Aston Villa respectively.
"If the results go our way, would that make any difference to our attitude going on to the pitch at Bolton? If they (Arsenal and Chelsea) both win or lose, we still have to go and beat Bolton," he said.
"That's where experience comes into it in a way. We've got to dismiss what's happening elsewhere with Arsenal and Chelsea and concentrate on our day."
Despite leaving Old Trafford with a limp after the 2-1 win over Liverpool on Sunday, Wayne Rooney is fit to face Bolton.
Ryan Giggs could be in the starting line-up this evening having missed seven games with a broken arm. Giggs said: "It has been tough, especially having a broken arm which meant I could run and do everything after a couple of weeks but just couldn't have any contact.
"It was frustrating missing out on the two (AC) Milan games and the Carling Cup final but we managed to win all of those so that made it a little bit easier."
The Welshman believes United are in pole position to take the Premier League title ahead of rivals Chelsea and Arsenal. He added: "We are in good form and the team's playing well both as a team and individually, so it's where we want to be come the run-in.
"I always say the team that is in good form and finishing well usually comes away with the league.
"It's unusual to have three involved, usually it's two teams going for it at this stage and it's going to be exciting.
"Ourselves and Chelsea have done it before and Arsenal have a manager who has done it and won the league so it's going to be an exciting end."
BOLTON v MANCHESTER UTD, LIVE TONIGHT, ESPN (KO 5.30)