|1||Van der Sar|
If winning a record fourth consecutive league title looked difficult after a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea at Old Trafford, this 0-0 stalemate made it an outright uphill battle. Now a point behind Carlo Ancelotti’s side, who have a game in hand, it will take a Chelsea collapse to hand the title to the Reds now.
United enjoyed plenty of possession at Ewood Park and one or two chances – Antonio Valencia with the best of them in the first half, and Dimitar Berbatov after the break – but there wasn’t enough in the locker to rise again from a week that saw United lose a big title bout and go out of Europe.
In many ways a trip to Ewood is the last thing you would wish for after a physically and emotionally draining fortnight that has left United’s hopes of winning one of two major trophies hanging in the balance. With the bitter taste of Champions League defeat on away goals to Bayern Munich still lingering, and Chelsea with the advantage in the title race after victory at OT last weekend, this was the first of five remaining games of an unpredictable season, and United had to go for it.
Sir Alex Ferguson signalled his intent to do that by selecting an attacking team with six changes to the side that started against Bayern on Wednesday. Wayne Rooney was missing with a burst blood vessel in his foot, while Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra were on the bench – the latter not included from the start for the first time in the league this season. Berbatov was joined by Federico Macheda in attack – the Italian youngster came off the bench to score against Chelsea and earned a third Premier League start of his career. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs manned the midfield while Nani and Antonio Valencia patrolled the wings. John O’Shea, making his first league appearance since November, and Gary Neville returned at full-back to join the defensive backbone of Edwin van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.