This year’s Barclay’s Premier League is perhaps one of the most exciting in recent memory. Three teams, Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, are vying for the right to be crowned Champions, with only 6 points separating them and 6 games to go. To spice things up even more, these three teams will meet one another at some point in the near future – Arsenal vs. Manchester United on April 13th and Chelsea vs. Manchester United on April 26th. Also consider this, all three teams are still in contention for the Champions League trophy.
Football fans can therefore be assured of an exciting run-in and this post will attempt to evaluate these three teams chances at success and glory. We shall start with current league leaders, Manchester United.
When talking about the giants from Manchester, one cannot not talk about wing wonder Cristiano Ronaldo. What a season he is having! Not only is he the top scorer in the Premiership with 26 goals, he is also the joint top scorer in the Champions League with 6 goals. All this is even more amazing when you consider that he is not even an out-and-out striker.
Some have said that he is single-handedly carrying the team to the Premiership trophy, but I beg to differ. It is true that he is the difference but more importantly, his team-mates have not let him down as well. Rio and Vidic have formed a formidable partnership at centre of United’s defence and when called upon, Scholes, Anderson and Carrick have all played their part, as have Rooney, Tevez and Giggs. The 4-0 whipping of Aston Villa is proof of that.
Speaking of Aston Villa, I was surprised that Ferguson decided to field his strongest available team. With the Champions League fixture against Roma midweek, I expected Ferguson to rest at least Ronaldo. However, I can see where Ferguson is coming from. Mathematically speaking, the Premiership trophy is one that they are most likely to win. The Champions League, on the other hand, is more of a gamble since they are still only in the quarter-finals. Therefore, resting key players in the Villa match and risking their 5 point cushion is a gamble that Ferguson is not willing to take and rightly so.
In the Premiership, the two matches that everyone will have their eyes on are the ones against Chelsea and Arsenal. If there is anywhere that United are likely to lose points, it will be against the two London rivals. The more worrying of the two will undoubtedly be at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea, where the Londoners have an impressive home record – they have not lost at home in over 75 games.
Arsenal are no pushovers of course, and they have showed their grit and determination when it matters. However, with that match set to take place at The Theatre of Dreams, surely United must be favourites.
If United manages to win these two matches, then the title surely must be theirs, but if they fail…….. Then the title race will be all the more interesting won’t it?
While Manchester United made short work of Aston Villa, Chelsea huffed and puffed to a 1-0 win against a resolute and unlucky Middlesborough side. An early goal from defender Ricardo Carvalho proved decisive, but Boro never gave up and put Chelsea under much pressure, especially in the second half. In fact, Boro could have quite easily won if not for substitute Alfonso Alves and defender David Wheater hitting the crossbar. Chelsea were poor and even manager Avram Grant agreed that they were lucky.
Chelsea have so far found it difficult to put down a good run of results and this could prove to be the difference. After whipping West Ham and Olympiacos 4-0 and 3-0 respectively, the Blues inexplicably lost 1-0 to Barnsley in the FA Cup. And despite leading 3-1 at one point at White Hart Lane against Tottenham, the Blues yet again baffled fans by succumbing to a 4-4 draw. Chelsea then rebounded with an amazing 2-1 comeback against Arsenal. The question therefore is this: Which Chelsea will turn up during the title run-in?
However, football is not without its controversies and there is one in Chelsea’s run-in – a sudden change in match fixtures. Chelsea have been told that, to suit television schedules, they must play Wigan at home on April 14th and then travel to Goodison Park to play Everton on the 17th, effectively playing 2 matches in 72 hours. Everton, chasing a Champions League play-off spot will be no pushovers and this match will be crucial.
After their fantastic 2-0 win at San Siro against Milan, Arsenal have been in the slumps. Before winning against Bolton, they drew 4 times and lost once, grabbing only 4 points from a possible 15, which is dreadful.
However, the win against Bolton would have given the Gunners a much needed boost. 2-0 down and with only 10 men, Arsenal incredibly managed the most unlikely of comebacks, scoring thrice in the second half and winning the match 3-2. This is an escape that even the late Houdini would have been proud of. Had they lost, then surely, it is all over.
While the win against Bolton would have no doubt lifted the Gunners spirits, it would have left them exhausted as well. Furthermore, their next 4 fixtures are not exactly “walks in the park”. Before their showdown with Manchester United at Old Trafford on April the 13th, Arsenal must first lock horns with Liverpool thrice in 7 days. This will certainly drain their energies and might even cause a few injury concerns, leaving them severely weakened for the crunch tie against United. With Sagna still out nursing an ankle injury, the squad can ill afford to suffer any more injuries.
As it stands now, United are, without a shadow of a doubt, favourites. 5 points ahead and with the team playing so well at the moment, you would be a fool to bet against them. However, Chelsea and Arsenal are still in the chase and with United having to play them both, anything is possible.
From a neutral’s perspective, the title run-in couldn’t be more exciting. The best case scenario would of course be United losing to both Chelsea and Arsenal thereby blowing the title-race really really wide open. In any case, just sit back and enjoy the ride.