x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Neville: We blew the title

Gary Neville has told his Manchester United teammates that they made too many mistakes in their bid for the Premier League title.

Gary Neville has told his Manchester United teammates that they made too many mistakes in their bid for the Premier League title. Although they have succeeded in taking the battle to the last day, where they face Stoke at home, unless Wigan claim an unlikely point at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea will end United's recent dominance of the Premier League.

It is a scenario that has been on the cards since before Christmas, by which time United had already lost five games and seemed incapable of adapting to life without Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. The improvement since then has been impressive, with the exception of one chronic fortnight which included a European exit, a home defeat to Chelsea and a draw at Blackburn that, in the end, looks to have signalled the death knell to their title bid.

Any lingering hope almost certainly disappeared with Liverpool's failure to produce an adequate performance against Carlo Ancelotti's side at the weekend. And while there were some rumblings of discontent from the Old Trafford faithful about the Merseysiders' poor performance, Neville prefers United to look at themselves. "When you leave it in the hands of others you have to take the punishment for it," he told MUTV.

"We hope that something happens on Sunday and we live in hope. If you had asked us after the Blackburn game we would have said all hope was gone. "But we will be kicking ourselves on Sunday if it doesn't go our way. The mistakes we have made have been unusual. Hopefully we don't live to regret it." Not that it has been a season without its highlights. The Carling Cup remains fourth on the list of priorities but in winning it, United denied Manchester City a chance to reach their first major final since 1976.

And, in Wayne Rooney's 34-goal contribution, United know they have another genuine world-class talent on their books following Ronaldo's world record exit for Real Madrid. Rooney scooped a hat-trick of personal awards after being named the club's Player of the Year to go alongside the PFA and Football Writers' accolades. Sir Alex Ferguson, the United manager, credited Rooney's terrific season to the fact that he is playing more centrally, as the focal point of the team's attack.

"The great thing about Wayne is that he always plays his part for the team," said the United manager. "He is able to concentrate on being in the box more than he used to. That is to do with maturity. "He always wanted to be all over the pitch. Wide left, wide right, everywhere. Now he is using the energy the right way and the results are showing." As United brace themselves for a second-placed finish, Petr Cech, the Chelsea goalkeeper, has hailed the team's resilience this season as they stand on the brink of a historic league and FA Cup double. Chelsea's victory over Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday made it six out of six against this season's Champions League-qualified teams (Arsenal being the third) - the first time in the Premier League era that a clean sweep over the other three has been achieved.

It is a marked contrast to last season when Chelsea won just one of the corresponding games - away to Arsenal. The other five yielded a home draw to Manchester United and four defeats. But Cech highlights the team's resilience as another reason why Carlo Ancelotti's side top the league with just one game left. Whenever Chelsea suffered a setback, they returned stronger and that is a major boost for Cech.

"We are confident and we know that we shouldn't lose two games in a row," said Cech. "We know that when something goes wrong, we always want to put it right the next game and so far it has worked well. We have won all of those big games home and away. Last season, before the change of the manager, we gave points to our rivals." Sunday's results moved Cech level with Liverpool's Pepe Reina in the race for the Premier League Golden Glove. Both now have 16 clean sheets. But Cech is putting all thoughts of personal glory aside as Chelsea chase their first title since 2006. Victory over Wigan would deliver the title in Ancelotti's first season in charge.

"If at the beginning of the season someone had said we were going to play the last game at home and a win would win the league, I think everybody would have signed for it," declared Cech. "So we know what we have to do. We play at home and it is always good if you can win a title at home." * PA