Heinze set for recall
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to call on Gabriel Heinze to help muscle Chelsea out of the Premiership title.
The Argentina full-back has not played for the Red Devils since rupturing cruciate ligaments in a Champions League encounter with Villarreal in September.
Even at the start of this month, Ferguson was playing down Heinze's chances of being heavily involved in the run-in, insisting the tough-tackling defender's exposure to first-team action would depend on United's situation heading into the final few games.
However, Ferguson has now admitted he was extremely close to naming Heinze on the bench for the weekend win over Arsenal and, providing the former Paris St Germain star comes through training without a problem this week, he is set to make his comeback in the Good Friday clash with basement boys Sunderland, four days before his 28th birthday.
'Gaby has been training for three weeks now and he is looking fantastic,' said Ferguson.
'He has been tackling like a tiger, has shown great energy in training and his enthusiasm is infectious.
'He is very close and I might just give him a go against Sunderland on Friday.'
Unfortunately for the Black Cats, it is not a case of if United win on Friday but how many they win by.
Seven points behind Chelsea with five games remaining, the Red Devils also have an eight-goal deficit to make up on the Londoners and the arrival of Sunderland offers a glorious opportunity to make inroads into that particular Blues advantage.
But the main imperative is to extend their current Premiership winning sequence to 10, thereby closing Chelsea's lead to just four points ahead of what looks to be a testing trip to Bolton for Jose Mourinho's men.
And that, for United skipper Gary Neville, is cause for celebration on its own.
'A month ago, people were talking about us being 18 points behind Chelsea,' observed Neville. 'On Friday, we can close the gap to four. That is an incredible position for us to be in, no matter what happens at the end of the season.
'As a group, we talked about not faltering and we talked about making sure we closed the gap. We are doing that. We are pleased with our form and the way that we are going about doing things.'
Whether it makes any difference or not could depend hugely on what happens at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday lunchtime.
Victory for Chelsea and they will almost certainly emulate United as back-to-back champions. Any other result and Ferguson's men will feel the force is with them again, setting up a do-or-die encounter with the Londoners at Stamford Bridge on April 29.
As a United fan, Neville needs no reminding of the Old Trafford outfit's catastrophic collapse in 1992, when they lost three times in a week around Easter to hand the title to Leeds.
'It certainly can happen but it has to happen quickly because there are only fve games to go,' he said. 'I know we might run out of time but we have done everything we wanted to do, which is important.'
The origins of United's startling rise to prominence can be traced back to their Carling Cup triumph over Wigan in February.
At the time, most pundits scoffed when Neville declared the club's first trophy since his installation as captain could prove to be the platform for sustained success.
United's many critics are not laughing now, and neither is Mourinho, even though Neville freely admits he did not expect such a positive reaction to the Millennium Stadium triumph.
'The Carling Cup win over Wigan was important and also the week after, when we came back to beat them in the last minute,' he said.
'But I never expected us to go on a run like this, or to produce the level of football we have.
'We have showed glimmers of it earlier in the season but now we are producing it consistently and we are in championship-winning form.
'With five games to go, we have 75 points, which is an incredible points tally.
'There is no doubt in any other season, we would have been champions.
'But the team above us are also fantastic and we have to respect that. All we can do now is hope something happens.
'We just need a glimmer of hope, so when we go to Chelsea, there will be something there for us in the match.'