It’s been a pivotal 2 weeks in the PL. Three weeks ago I suggested that if United failed to win at Villa their chances of retaining the title could be on the ropes. This was based on the premise that both Chelsea and Liverpool would record maximum points in relatively easy home games.
A 5 point gap is one thing, in November, but an 8 point gap. when chasing two teams, starts to become psychological. The pressure is on not to drop any more points and that in itself can affect performance. As we know now all three recorded draws so (from a Utd point of view) no damage was done.
A week later United again had a tricky away fixture against City, a team coming off two convincing wins, while Liverpool had the seemingly straight forward task of dispensing with West Ham at home and Chelsea were favourites to get 3 points at home against the near imploding Arsenal.
As a Man Utd fan I would have gladly accepted parity in the gap before these 2 weeks began but to have reeled in Chelsea by 3 points and Liverpool by 2 over these two fixtures has been a major bonus for Utd.
Chelsea have battled manfully against many injuries this season and deserve great credit for not dropping more points. As they get their players back they will undoubtedly be a force as the season progresses but they must regret that they have let Utd back in when they could have all but shut the door (or at the very least asked serious questions of their rivals).
Liverpool, on the other hand, have over-achieved in terms of points v performance so far. There was doom and gloom around Anfield last night despite rising to the summit of the table. Why? Liverppol fans are nothing if not knowledgeable about football and they know the game is up. They’ve lived on hope but, in reality, all the pre-season assessments were correct. I say this with total objectivity as opposed to bias, Liverpool don’t have either the quality or the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge this year. They may go longer than last year but that’s about it.
But there’s another factor in all of this. The computer that dishes out the fixtures each year dealt Utd a very difficult hand in the first 14 games. Utd have played 6 games at home and 8 away. Compare this to Chelsea and Liverpool’s 8 home and 7 away. Add to that Utd’s 8 away games: Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Villa, City, Everton, Portsmouth and Blackburn. You might substitute 1 or, at most 2, of these to come up with the most difficult fixtures of the season but that’s about it. While Chelsea have played all of their top 4 rivals at home, Utd have played them all away. Liverpool and Arsenal have 1 home and 1 away each.
Make no mistake, the fixture list is worth several points to Utd from here on in AND they have the psychological advantage following the last two weeks.
Chelsea and Liverpool had a real chance to turn the screw, but failed miserably and, in between, threw in a couple of poor performances in Europe. How quickly can they get back on track?