United look to block Chelsea's bid for fourth

Posted by Mark Payne

Clive Mason/Getty ImagesSir Alex Ferguson would like nothing better than to put a dent in the CV of Rafa Benitez and help deny Chelsea a top four finish.

Rafael Benitez cannot win. Even though he has made it to the Europa League Final, the Chelsea fans spent most of the semifinal against Basel singing Jose Mourinho's name. Mourinho was Benitez's arch-enemy at one point and has been making very public overtures for the job he currently inhabits.

You have got to hand it to Mourinho. His tenure at Madrid has been seriously blemished by infighting and politics. And they were outclassed by Borussia Dortmund. Yet he has managed to shift the focus away from that and toward his overt flirting with Chelsea. Once bitten, Mr. Abramovich?

Benitez, of course, is not short on enemies and his relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson is similarly prickly. Despite the championship being done and dusted, Fergie would not shed a tear if United were to put a dent in Chelsea's top-four challenge or Benitez's ego. "He is very concerned about his CV. He refers to it quite a lot," chided Fergie on Friday morning as he served bubbly to journalists.

- Lythell: Chelsea must maintain OT love affair
- Fergie discusses Benitez's work

Manchester United's players are certainly not under any more pressure. The best motivator Fergie can come up with is to deny them a trip to the race course if he is unhappy with their performance on Sunday. "These are games we want to win, so they had better be on their mettle against Chelsea, or they won't be going to Chester," he said.

As a squad, that is the only penalty hanging over them. Individual players however, might have something more to concern them, with the manager commenting this week on his squad being oversized.

"You end up with too many players and trying to keep them all happy," Ferguson said. "It has happened a few times this season."

Ryan Giggs has seen more than a hundred colleagues come and go and knows what it takes to stay at the club. "I have seen so many young players over the years have a chance and not really take it," he said.

These final games might present the last chance for people like Nani and Anderson to stake their claim. Even Wayne Rooney's future is not certain.

These are the subplots that make United's clash with Chelsea this Sunday so intriguing. Ostensibly, United have nothing to play for, but Fergie will be well aware that Benitez is desperate to secure a top-four spot and salvage his reputation. Manchester United will look to sully it permanently.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

ESPN Conversations