Man United chases repeat League Cup final triumph
Manchester United is out to become the first club in 20 years to
win the League Cup two years in a row when it faces Aston Villa at
Wembley, and also hopes that neighbor Manchester City will do it a
big favor by beating Chelsea in the Premier League.
The worst-case scenario for manager Alex Ferguson and his team, however, is that they lose the final at Wembley and Man City loses at Chelsea to leave United four points behind in the league title race.
United is coming off a 3-0 victory over West Ham in the league on Tuesday with striker Wayne Rooney taking his goals tally for the season to 27 including 11 in his last eight games.
But Ferguson has announced two more injury problems with centerback Rio Ferdinand out of Sunday's game with a recurrence of his nagging back injury and midfielder Anderson ruled out for six months with a ruptured cruciate-ligament injury.
Ferguson is likely to make several changes from the lineup that beat West Ham with experienced goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar expected to return along with defenders Rafael da Silva, Jonny Evans and midfielder Michael Carrick.
"The final itself has a great attraction," Ferguson said. "We recognize very seriously the challenge from Aston Villa. When you think of the team Martin O'Neill inherited and compare it with the team he has got now it's completely different in every department.
"He has brought consistency to them. He doesn't make many changes and it could be a successful season. They are also in the FA Cup quarterfinal now."
Villa beat second tier Crystal Palace in a fifth-round replay on Wednesday and faces another League Championship club, Reading, in the last eight.
O'Neill is likely to start with England strikers Gabriel Agbonlahor and Emile Heskey against United on Sunday even though the tall Norwegian forward, John Carew, scored twice against Palace.
While United will hope that Man City wins on Saturday to stop Chelsea moving further ahead in the standings, Villa is likely to be cheering on the Premier League leader.
That is because Villa and Man City are rivals - along with Tottenham and Liverpool - for a fourth-place finish in the Premier League which would mean a shot at playing in next season's Champions League.
A Chelsea victory at Stamford Bridge will give Carlo Ancelotti's team a four-point cushion. It would also mean Villa remains only a point behind Man City but with a game in hand.
Going into the weekend's league games, Chelsea has 61 points from 27 games, Man United has 60 from 28 and third-placed Arsenal, which goes to Stoke, has 55 from 27.
With games running out, the three appear to be the only realistic contenders for the title while the four teams behind them are more concerned with fourth place and are tightly bunched.
Tottenham and Man City have 46 points and Liverpool and Villa have 45. Tottenham hosts improving Everton on Sunday when Liverpool welcomes Blackburn.
There should be a few more twists and turns in the struggle to avoid relegation although that is likely to be virtually confirmed in the next few days for last-placed Portsmouth.
Deeply in debt and facing a winding-up order on Monday, Portsmouth seems set to go into financial administration unless it finds a new owner. Administration would bring a nine-point deduction.
With only 16 points so far, the loss of nine would make it only a matter of time before it is mathematically impossible for Portsmouth to survive even if beats next-to-last Burnley on Saturday.
Bolton, which is also in the relegation zone, faces Wolves, which is two places above. Hull lies in between the two, doesn't have a game this weekend and will slide to next to last if Bolton and Burnley win.
In 15th place, Wigan is also in danger of being sucked into the relegation battle and has a difficult game at Birmingham on Saturday. Likewise, Sunderland, which is only three points above the relegation zone, has a tough game at home to Fulham on Sunday.
In the race for promotion, Newcastle holds a five-point lead at the top of the League Championship. It hopes to capture three more points at Watford on Saturday to maintain momentum toward an immediate return to the top flight after relegation last season.
Second-placed Nottingham Forest goes to neighbor Leicester and third-placed West Bromwich Albion, which is six points behind Newcastle, hosts Derby.