Rafa Benitez faces Sir Alex Ferguson for last time with Chelsea
LONDON (AP) -- For the final time as Chelsea manager, Rafa Benitez will face old adversary Alex Ferguson at Manchester United on Sunday with the team's Champions League prospects on the line against the new Premier League champions.
The feud between Ferguson and Benitez stretches back to the Spaniard's time as Liverpool manager, and the pair engaged in a dispute over handshakes when Chelsea played at United in the FA Cup in March.
The season is effectively over for United, but Ferguson's side can stymie Chelsea's attempts to stay in the top four - Benitez's main mission before leaving his temporary job at Chelsea.
Immediately after Benitez was hired by Chelsea in October, Ferguson wasted little time in reigniting his feud with him. The United manager said Benitez had been "very lucky'' to be handed the Chelsea job after nearly two years out of management since being fired by Inter Milan.
The pair often clashed during Benitez's time at Liverpool from 2004-10, with their most spectacular conflict coming in 2009 when Ferguson suggested Liverpool would be affected by nerves late in the Premier League title chase.
Benitez retorted by reading out a hand-written list of "facts'' to back up his claim that Ferguson wasn't punished enough for verbally using referees and match officials.
When Benitez and Ferguson next meet in opposite dugouts after Sunday is not clear. Regardless of how the season ends for Chelsea, Benitez has already said he would leave the club at the end of the season.
"When I signed I wanted to do a professional job,'' Benitez said. "And I think that we have done this from the first day, so we will try to stay as high as possible in the table.''
Chelsea is currently third with a one-point advantage over Arsenal with a game in hand. Arsenal's top-four bid, however, was stymied by its draw with United last weekend at Emirates Stadium.
"Rafa is a manager who has had great seasons in every club that he has worked,'' Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata said. "Since he came he just tried to do his best for the team. For me and for the players, he's a great manager.
"We're now at the end of the season trying to be in third position.''
Arsenal is playing another team on Saturday whose season is over. Queens Park Rangers' relegation to the second tier, along with Reading's, was confirmed last weekend.
With Olivier Giroud suspended, Arsenal could be relying on Theo Walcott to score in the London derby.
As the club's leading scorer with 19 goals this season, Walcott is establishing his credentials as a center forward to manager Arsene Wenger.
"I played a few games there and I would like a few more towards the end of the season,'' Walcott said. "I scored a lot of my goals this season when playing up front, so I have shown what I can do and it is up to the manager to do what he sees is best. I am sure another chance will come.
"I set a 20-goal target for the season, but the biggest goal for me is to help Arsenal finish third or fourth.''
Tottenham, though, is hot on Arsenal's heels - sitting only two points behind its London rival in fifth with a game in hand heading into Saturday's match against Southampton.
Securing a top-four finish for Champions League qualification could be the key to retaining Gareth Bale. The Wales attacker added the English Football Writers' Association's player of the year title on Thursday to the same honor he won from his fellow professionals on Sunday.
But manager Andre Villas-Boas is hopeful of keeping him, regardless if Tottenham has to settle for a Europa League spot.
"The player is here to remain, independent of the objectives of Champions League qualification being achieved or not,'' Villas-Boas said. "I would be extremely surprised (if he left). (But) in football, anything can happen.''
At the bottom of the standings, just one relegation place is still to be determined and it is currently occupied by Wigan, which is at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
Newcastle, Aston Villa and Sunderland sit five points ahead of Wigan and they are only separated by goal difference.
On Saturday, Newcastle is at West Ham and Villa travels to Norwich. Sunderland doesn't play until hosting Stoke on Monday.
Also Saturday, Fulham takes on already-relegated Reading and second-place Manchester City is at Swansea, while the other Sunday fixture pits Liverpool at home against Everton in the Merseyside derby.
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