Football - Day at the races rests on United beating Chelsea

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is resorting to light-hearted bribery to keep his Premier League winners focused on Sunday's match against Chelsea by telling them they will only be allowed a day at the races if they win.

Reuters

His players sealed a 20th league title last week and there has been a party mood around the club since, Ferguson even sharing champagne with reporters at Friday's news conference.

"I never took into account all the (celebration-type) things that happen," he said. "The PFA award, our own Player of Year awards, the parade and then (Nemanja) Vidic came to me last week and asked if the team could go to Chester races on Wednesday.

"And I said without thinking "Yeah, of course" but then when you put all these things together you think 'what the hell!'.

"I hope they don't forget there's a game of football to be played, now if they don't win on Sunday I think that would be cancelled."

The incentives do not end there.

"In actual fact, I think I've got two horses running on Wednesday so I'll give them a tip if they win," he added.

Having travelled to Arsenal last weekend and hosting Chelsea this weekend, Ferguson has spoken of his duty to put out strong sides against teams whose seasons are far from over as they chase Champions League spots.

They might put out their best team but there is no pressure.

"It's time for us to play with good enthusiasm, enjoyment and relax and play good football and express ourselves, that's what I expect to see," said Ferguson as he sipped his bubbly from a plastic cup.

BENITEZ DIG

Third-placed Chelsea are 20 points behind the champions in the standings with 65 points from 34 games and after a stuttering season have found some form over recent weeks, reaching the Europa League final on Thursday.

Ferguson said inconsistency had been the London side's problem in a season where they dismissed manager Roberto Di Matteo in November and appointed Rafael Benitez until the end of the campaign.

"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 in the last few weeks that they've got any consistency again," he said.

Ferguson praised Benitez for good recent results, helped in part he believes by an easing in hostility from fans towards the Spaniard. But he could not resist a little dig at a man with whom he has often had a fractious relationship.

"I think he's very concerned about his CV, he refers to it quite a lot," he said.

Ferguson has not got any major injury concerns before Sunday's game at Old Trafford (1500 GMT) although striker Danny Welbeck has been ruled out and midfielder Paul Scholes is likely to be on the bench as he returns from injury.

The United manager said he was not planning wholesale changes to his squad during the close season, saying "tweaking" was the right word for what he had in mind.

"We'll maybe look at one or two bodies to come in but you've got to remember we've got a lot of young players we expect to improve, we've got to take that into consideration," he said.

"In the main group, we know where we are, we are comfortable."

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