Man Utd are incredibly top of the pile at Christmas, and probably wondering how they got there. More pertinent a question might be who let them get there?
There were a few of stutters from Chelsea early on as their World Cup-weary stars shook and tried to get used to playing, for the most part, out of position while challenges from Arsenal and Liverpool failed to materialise. United could not believe their luck. Consistent performances and a relatively clean injury list saw them sail to the top of the Premiership table unchallenged.
This while Arsenal look like they still have a lot of work to do if they want to turn the Emirates into a fortress. Though when they are on song, the Londoners are still the most exciting team in the league, they are horribly inconsistent and this will doubtless stop them from getting back into the title race proper this season.
Liverpool appear to be finding their rhythm at last, but it is all illusionary, their early season programme was tough; picking off the likes of Charlton away, and Fulham and Watford at Anfield in recent weeks hardly qualifies them as championship material. They are more likely good solid candidates for a Champions League qualifiers spot. Alonso, Gerrard, Carragher and possibly Kuyt might be capable, but there are too many Luis Garcias in this side — players who only seem to really turn it on in cup competitions.
United, meanwhile, are in sparkling form, coming back from a hiccup against West Ham and displaying a lot of character with an excellent away win against Martin O’Neill’s tricky Villa side.
Giggs and Scholes have been outstanding and Saha/Rooney is starting to look like the most efficient front line in the league. At the back, Vidic is starting to show some evidence of being worth the £7million, while Van Der Saar’s class is unquestionable.
The only problem with United, however, is their lack of squad depth. It would only take one or two injuries to seriously unbalance this team.
Those waiting on the sidelines: the Wes Browns, Darren Fletchers and Alan Smiths, are just not, for all of their unquestionable commitment to the club, championship-winning material. There is no doubt about it: should any of their key players face a month on the sidelines, this would be a massive blow to their title ambitions.
Chelsea, on the other hand, might even welcome one or two injuries, at least it might give some of their well-paid, five-star reserves a run in the first team. Their strength in depth is second to none anywhere in the World.
Liverpool, meanwhile, do have a bigger squad than United, but theirs is brimming with ineffective utility players like Bolo Zenden. Arsenal, too, have strength in numbers, but most of their squad outside the first eleven are untested at the highest level.
Ferguson’s admission that his transfer kitty is a measly £25million a year (albeit with a £25 million “superstar” fund), simply does not allow him to be able to compete with Mourinho, who can squander that much on £50k-a-week reserve team players several times over.
Chelsea have hit their stride now, and they will return to their efficient, if dull, results-based service of last season.
Sorry kids, but money still rules, and unless Fergie waves some kind of magic wand over his players that will somehow keep them all injury-free until May, there seems to be no conceivable way the title is going to head back up North in 2007.