Ferguson: Fans have helped Rafa
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson says Chelsea's strong end to the season is due largely to the Stamford Bridge faithful dropping their protests against interim manager Rafael Benitez and instead giving their full focus to supporting the team.
The Barclays Premier League powerhouses meet at Old Trafford on Sunday with Chelsea fresh from sealing their place in the final of the Europa League after last night's win over Basle, and United still on a high from wrapping up their 20th league title.
Chelsea have won five of their last seven league games since former Liverpool boss Benitez famously spoke out over his treatment at the hands of the Chelsea fans at the end of February, and they now sit third in the standings - just six points off second-placed Manchester City with four games remaining.
Ferguson believes the Blues are benefiting from a more harmonious atmosphere in the stands, yet could not resist a sly dig at arch-rival Benitez when asked about the Spaniard's achievement in adding another European final to his collection.
"He is very concerned about his CV," Ferguson said. "He refers to it quite a lot.
"But you can't dispute the fact he has done a good job in the last few weeks.
"The key to it is that the fans have settled down a little bit. They have left him alone and he has got on with managing his job.
"It can't be easy, listening to pressure from the fans all the time.
"They have eased up. It has allowed him to relax and they have produced some good results.
"When they sacked Roberto Di Matteo that maybe knocked them back a bit.
"It took them a long time to get going again.
"It's only been in the last few weeks that they've got any consistency and this has been the best part of their season."
Chelsea cannot take anything for granted just yet, as they remain just three points ahead of Tottenham - who they face on Wednesday - in the battle to secure a Champions League berth for next season.
"Their next two games are crucial," added Ferguson.
"I would imagine they'd be thinking they need to get something out of our game because Spurs is never an easy game.
"They will be fresh and Chelsea will have played Thursday, Sunday, Wednesday."
Meanwhile, Ferguson joked that he might scrap the team's midweek trip to Chester races if they fail to beat Chelsea this weekend.
Ferguson is keen for his players to maintain their focus amid the distractions that crowd the final weeks of any season, and said: "I never took into account all the things that are happening like the PFA awards, our own Player of the Year awards and the trophy parade.
"When Nemanja Vidic came to me last week and asked if the team could go to Chester races on Wednesday, I said yes.
"But then you put all these things together and you say to yourself: 'bloody hell, I hope they don't forget there's a game of football to be played!'
"If they don't win on Sunday we could be cancelling the races."
While Ferguson spoke in jest, he is deadly serious in his desire for United to end the season in a professional manner.
"They've had a fantastic season and deserve to celebrate as a team," he said.
"But they've also got to remember we've got games to win."
United striker Robin van Persie was today named the Barclays Player of the Month for April.