The games seem to be fizzing by our eyes as we hurtle headlong toward the nub-end of the season though, mercifully, this weekend (5-7th March) represents a chance for the poor, over-saturated footballing pilgrim to come up for air and take stock – proffering forth, as it does, a clear, concise and full round of ten Premier League fixtures with no outside interference from any of those meddling cup games that have been diluting the schedule for the past couple of weeks.
Have Chelsea left it too late?
Thanks largely to a 90-minute bout of resolutely ‘unfair’ refereeing (© Sir Alex), Chelsea managed to snaffle all three-points from under title-chasing Manchester United’s noses at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday evening – leading Frank Lampard to suggest that the Blues may still be ‘in with a shout’ after seeing his late penalty muscle his side to within 12 points of the Premier League summit with a game in hand on United and third-place Man City.
Chelsea will be hoping to utilise the momentum that their victory over United has afforded them by securing a win when they square-off against Blackpool on Monday evening as Carlo Ancelotti‘s side must now all of their 11 remaining Premier League games to have any hope of pipping the teams above and around them to the title.
A flawless haul of 33 points will take Chelsea’s cumulative tally to 81 at the end of the season meaning that, by assuming they beat current league leaders United on May 7th but that United win all of their remaining fixtures, they will still be 9 points behind Sir Alex Ferguson‘s side when the fat lady sings.
Effectively, Chelsea will require United to not only lose against them once again, but for their rivals to drop a hefty wodge of points elsewhere.
Essentially they are now relying on a fairly epic cock-up elsewhere to salvage anything from this season’s league campaign and, while stranger things have happened, it’s not looking particularly promising for Roman’s charges – that’ll teach ’em that you can’t be abject for three months in the middle and still expect for it to all come good at the finishing line.
Surely now (as Ancelotti has hinted in recent weeks), after months of dismal domestic form, Chelsea have begrudgingly accepted that victories from their remaining Premier League games should be merely pursued as a means to maintain a sense of momentum in the club’s continued bid to snag themselves a maiden Champions League trinket.
So who’s going to win it?
At least…I hope they will, for recreational betting purposes more than anything.
Whilst it’s only fair to mention Man City in passing, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the year for the Premier League’s new-money yuppies, who will need to harvest ten wins from ten games to stand any chance of catching the two sides above them – and even then, Arsenal and Manchester United will have to come up with something particularly apocalyptic if City are going to usurp them both at the pinnacle.
The Gunners still have to play Liverpool and United before the end of the season, but their run-in schedule looks ineffably kinder than that of United – the only side above them in the current standings.
Arsene Wenger‘s side play out-of-form Sunderland this weekend, a game they are both expecting- and are ‘expected to-‘ win, leaving them with nine games left to continue gnawing away at United’s current (and perfectly assailable) four-point lead – and, with Rooney and co. veering wildly between the sublime and the resoundingly average throughout the season so far, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect a least one more turn-up for the books.
After missing their chance to end a six-year barren spell in the Carling Cup final last weekend, Arsenal responded with a resounding 5-0 FA Cup win over League One side Leyton Orient which, in turn, set up a quarter-final tie with Manchester United on March 12th.
Their progression through to the last 8 of the FA Cup means that Wenger’s band of tyros will now have to play Barcelona and United within a four-day period before returning to league duties with a game against West Brom the week after.
If anything, fatigue/injury will be Arsenal’s undoing being as they may well be involved in competition on three separate fronts from now until the Champions League final on 28th May – but with such a young talent pool at his disposal, Wenger’s mob may just have the legs to outstrip Ferguson’s ageing (in a relative sense) cronies as we enter the two-horse sprint stage of the 2010/11 Premier League season.