Rio wants key role in Manchester United's title thriller
Rio Ferdinand is relishing the intensity of a three-pronged title battle — just as long as Manchester United emerge the victors.
A combination of their own victory over Liverpool on Sunday and Chelsea's failure to beat Blackburn at Ewood Park put United in pole position for the first time this year.
Sir Alex Ferguson's men know even if Chelsea win their game in hand against cash-strapped Portsmouth at Fratton Park tomorrow, they will still be a point better off than the Londoners, who must visit Old Trafford on April 3.
Arsenal are currently two points adrift, but with a significantly inferior goal difference to the leaders, adding a further dimension to a contest that has seemed certain to favour the men from Stamford Bridge until their dramatic recent slump in form.
A few twists seem certain yet to enthral committed supporter and neutral alike.
Ferdinand can see exactly why it would be so alluring. But with an unprecedented fourth successive championship and a record 19th overall to win, United have a focus they will not easily be distracted from.
“This is probably the best title run-in for years,” said the England defender.
“There are three teams in it, which makes it fantastic for the fans and the neutrals to watch.
“But we just want to finish on top. That is what we are aiming to do.”
Although Sir Alex Ferguson has continually stressed the need to make a fast start since the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2004, the Scot has not lost the ability of getting his team to peak at the right times either.
After spending the early months of the season looking sluggish and incapable of recovering from the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, the return of European combat has coincided with a surge in United's performances.
Quite apart from Wayne Rooney going on a scoring streak that has now brought him 17 goals in 12 games, taking his overall tally to 33, just nine short of the 42 Cristiano Ronaldo ended up with two seasons ago, others are stepping into the breach too.
Left out yesterday, Dimitar Berbatov's input has been crucial recently, Antonio Valencia and Nani are both far more consistently effective out wide than before.
The boundless energy of Park Ji-sung and Darren Fletcher is making United difficult to defeat, while the return to fitness of an entire first-choice defence, plus keeper Edwin van der Sar has increased solidity.
“We worked hard as a team and did what the manager asked. It got us the result,” was Ferdinand's assessment of an effective performance, that neutralised Fernando Torres once the Spain star had scored for the third game on the trot against them.
“We have been defending very well of late so to concede a goal after five minutes in such a big game was disappointing.
“But we got ourselves back together and took control of the game.
“The way we came back, picked ourselves up and went at Liverpool speaks volumes for the talent we have in our squad.”
Park's growing status at Old Trafford received a further boost with his brave winner.
He has already added another League Cup winners' medal to his collection this season and, despite suffering a succession of injuries during the last few seasons that Ferguson attributed to his lengthy flights back home for international duty, is one of those who will be collecting a fourth championship medal should United finish top.
Park accepts carrying out the task will not be as easy as it sounds. The sums however, are pretty simple.
“The maths are easy,” he said. “We have seven games left. If we win every one, we win the title. It is not going to be easy and it could go to the last game. But we believe in ourselves. If we keep playing to our present level we can do it.”