Cristiano Ronaldo has warned Chelsea that Manchester United are determined to end the Premier League title race by winning their decisive showdown on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson's league leaders can effectively wrap up their 17th English title by beating second-placed Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
A victory for the reigning champions would open up a six point gap over Avram Grant's team with only two games to play and United's vastly superior goal difference makes it impossible for Chelsea to overhaul them.
If United do retain the crown they will owe a huge debt of gratitude to Ronaldo. The Portugal winger has an incredible 28 league goals this season and even his penalty miss against Barcelona in midweek couldn't shake his confidence ahead of the trip to west London.
“It will be a tough game but we have a great chance as the team is very confident,” he said. “We do not want to drop any points at Chelsea, so it is important we go for the victory.”
Even a defeat wouldn't be a disaster for United as they would stay top thanks to their goal difference, but Chelsea deserve credit for keeping up the pressure after trailing by eight points earlier this year.
When the Blues were beaten 2-0 at Old Trafford in Grant's first match back in September, they looked anything but a title contender. Now they have one last chance to make United sweat and Petr Cech is relishing the challenge.
“Every game now is like a final. Personally I play football to play in the big games and this is an exciting time for everyone,” Cech said.
“The Premier League is getting towards the end and after Saturday we can be neck-and-neck with Man United.
“Of course, United score the most goals in the league – they have got the attacking threat. But we have got a pretty good record at Stamford Bridge, so we hope to keep that going.”
The death of Frank Lampard's mother Pat after a short battle with pneumonia on Thursday cast a shadow over Chelsea's preparations. Lampard could be missing but United also have a worry over Nemanja Vidic, who is struggling to recover from a stomach bug.
While the title fight is top of the bill this weekend, an equally fierce battle is taking place at the bottom as seven teams try to avoid relegation.
Fulham, who face Manchester City, are odds-on to fill one of the two remaining places in the bottom three, but Birmingham still believe they can climb out of the drop zone.
Alex McLeish's side could be helped by Liverpool, who are likely to rest a host of stars for their trip to St Andrews as they prepare for the Champions League semi-final second leg against Chelsea.
“It's a fantastic challenge lying ahead for the boys,” McLeish said. “They are very keen to be in the Premier League again. But to do that, it means pitting yourselves against fantastic players every week and a club like Liverpool have so much depth to their squad.”
If Birmingham slip up Reading can edge towards survival with a win at Wigan. But Royals boss Steve Coppell is concerned that Wigan's sub-standard pitch, labelled a disgrace by Latics manager Steve Bruce, could prove more of a problem than the home team.
“The only thing that could benefit Wigan is that they know that teams don't like playing on a surface like that and they are almost frightened by it,” Coppell said. “We will have to deal with that.”
Successive wins over West Ham and Middlesbrough have given Bolton a lifeline but Gary Megson's team can't afford a slip when they meet Tottenham.
Saturday (all 1400GMT unless stated)
Birmingham v Liverpool
Chelsea v Man Utd (1145GMT)
Man City v Fulham
Sunderland v Middlesbrough
Tottenham v Bolton
West Ham Newcastle
Wigan v Reading
Everton v Aston Villa (1500GMT)
Portsmouth v Blackburn (1230GMT)
Derby v Arsenal (1900GMT)
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