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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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By ESPN Staff

Rooney determined to spoil Chelsea's title party

Wayne Rooney is desperate to avoid the `devastation' of Chelsea retaining the title at Manchester United's expense on Saturday.

Despite prolonging their championship challenge for far longer than anyone expected thanks to a run of 10 wins in their last 11 Barclays Premiership outings, United have now hit the point of no return.

Failure to beat Jose Mourinho's men at Stamford Bridge this weekend will officially shunt the Red Devils into Chelsea's shadow for another year.

Rooney was part of the United line-up ordered to form a guard of honour and applaud Chelsea out at Old Trafford by manager Sir Alex Ferguson last May. And the England star, voted PFA Young Player of the Year for the second successive season, has no wish to be present at any more Chelsea celebration parties.

'Obviously, it is difficult for us now,' said Rooney of a league table which requires United to win their final three games and Chelsea to lose all theirs to complete the most startling comeback in English football history.

'At this moment, we are just looking to finish second and clinch that second automatic Champions League spot.

'But we want to go to Chelsea and win on Saturday because it would be devastating if they were to win the league against us.'

Given their recent form, United will no doubt head to the capital wondering what might have been.

Despite already amassing 79 points this season - more than in one of their eight Premier League title campaigns and equal to that achieved in their historic 1999 treble-winning year - United have never really recovered from an awful autumn when they picked up just nine points from seven games.

By then, Chelsea were in a clear lead and the Red Devils wasted their last chance to exert any pressure over the Londoners on Good Friday when they were inexplicably held at home by relegated Sunderland when victory would have closed the gap to just four points.

The transformation partly coincided with the introduction of Louis Saha to Ferguson's starting line-up, a move which has cast major doubt over Ruud van Nistelrooy's United future.

But Rooney also feels, after a desperate run of injuries, major competition for places has helped galvanise the Old Trafford outfit.

He said: 'There has been competition for places over the last few months and that is why we have done better.

'We have defended really well as a team and the likes of Louis Saha have come in and done really well for us. Overall, we have made a lot of progress.'

In three matches time though, Rooney can forget all about domestic chores and concentrate his attentions on helping England's World Cup quest.

At just 20, Rooney was nearly two decades away from being born when Sir Alf Ramsey led his men to glory in 1966.

And, while Ferguson may be unhappy at the weight of expectation being placed on his young striker's shoulders, there is no doubt if Rooney has the same impact on this summer's tournament as he did on Euro 2004, England have a major chance.

Rooney is wise enough not to proclaim England will triumph in Germany this year. But, when he looks around the dressing room, he sees no reason to worry about any of their rivals.

'I do not think we need to fear anyone,' he said. 'This is probably the best group of players we have had since 1966.

'There is a mixture of youth and experience in the team, and the spirit is certainly the best it has been since I have been involved in the squad.

'We are going into every game confident we are going to win it and hopefully we will be in the same situation when the World Cup comes round.'