Old Trafford will be in a festive mood come Sunday as Manchester United will celebrate their Barclays Premier League title, a record 19th, when they take on Blackpool FC in the season finale. While the champions will see the match as a celebration and a tune-up for their UEFA Champions League final, the relegation-threatened Tangerines will be fighting for survival. In the reverse fixture, the two sides played an absolute cracker of a match at Bloomfield Road. Blackpool went ahead 2-0 before United stormed back to steal three valuable points on the road. It's a match that the Tangerines undoubtedly regret not earning at least a point from while United can look back and see this comeback as a key moment in their title triumph.
Manchester United: After securing the league title and knocking Liverpool FC off their perch, the focus for United has shifted to their upcoming Champions League final vs FC Barcelona come 28 May at Wembley. This side that supposedly lacks "fantasy" has won manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and also Ryan Giggs, an unbelievable 12th Premier League title. The match may potentially be the last at Old Trafford for Paul Scholes, who has yet to reveal his plans for next season. If Edwin van der Sar is in goal, it will certainly be his last at the Theatre of Dreams as the Dutchman will retire at season's end.
United appear to have a relatively clean bill of health ahead of this tie. The main concern is fitness and rest for key squad members that will do battle with Barcelona in 8 days. Defenders John O'Shea, Rafael, and Fabio have all dealt with minor knocks as of late, but none of those are regarded as being serious. Owen Hargreaves continues to be out due to long term injury.
Blackpool: The attack-minded Seasiders are fighting for their Premier League lives. Many neutrals will certainly be rooting for Blackpool to stay up as the free-spirited side and their manager Ian Holloway have endeared themselves to football fans all around the Premier League. The Tangerines currently sit 18th in the table, within the relegation zone. However, the two clubs on both sides of them also sit on 39 points and two clubs are sitting ahead of them on 40 points. Blackpool could still theoretically stay up with a loss if both Wigan and Birmingham City suffer defeats, the latter by multiple goals. If Wolverhampton Wanderers lose by multiple goals, then Blackpool may be able to surpass them with a draw. Survial Sunday will surely be a theatrical day around the Premier League.
Injury wise, Blackpool appear to be in good shape and Holloway should have a relatively full squad from which to choose his lineup. Injuries to defender David Carney and midfielder Chris Basham are the only players unavailable.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has indicated that he will field a strong lineup in order to avoid the wrath from the Football Association (FA) and other Premier League managers. Keeping Barcelona in mind and the need to rest certain squad members, Ferguson will rest many first-choice players. However, he is planning on fielding a very strong side:
"I have players who need a game. Darren Fletcher, Paul Scholes, Anderson, Dimitar Berbatov, Patrice Evra, and Edwin van der Sar will play."
van der Sar appears to be the choice in goal for his last start at Old Trafford. Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling may deputise for Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Evra likely starts at left-back after sitting out the past few matches while Rafael may get the start at right-back if healthy enough. If United play in a 4-4-2 shape, Scholes and Anderson may patrol the center of the pitch while Fletcher may get a start on the right. Nani will likely start on one flank as well. Berbatov will chase the golden boot and he may be paired up front with Michael Owen.
As for Blackpool, their lineup likely goes unchanged from recent matches. This would mean Matthew Gilks in goal with Alex Baptiste and Ian Evatt as the center-back pairing. Neil Eardley will be the anticipated right-back while Stephen Crainey as the left-back. In their 4-3-3 shape, David Vaughan, Keith Southern, and talisman Charlie Adam are the first-choice central midfielders. The excellent DJ Campbell leads the line in attack he will likely be flanked by Jason Puncheon and Gary Taylor-Fletcher.
Odds: Manchester United 8/15, Draw 10/3, Blackpool 17/4
Prediction: Manchester United 2-2 Blackpool
Not SBN, but a good Blackpool blog: Tangerine Dreaming