On December 10th 2006, three teams played football at Stamford Bridge. It was a magnificent match.
Result: Manchester United won, Arsenal managed a tie and Chelsea lost.
If you’re a Chelsea fan, do not already plan my crucifixion, for I am just as blue as you are.
Enough has already been written about the match. Whether it was Chelsea’s bad luck or Manchester United’s good luck is a matter of which side you’re on. But yesterday’s match was one of those where things just don’t happen for one team.
Earlier this season I thought hitting on the woodwork was a Gunner specialty, probably one of Wenger’s accuracy lessons. But turns out, even Mourinho has started these lessons. Besides the role of luck in yesterday’s match, I do not want to get into the debate of penalty or no-penalty, foul or no-foul, Hilario or Cech. No use.
The bottom line is Wenger and the Gunners should celebrate after drawing a match full of defensive bloopers. It is not usual for teams to grab a point at Stamford Bridge, three seemingly impossible. Henry was out, and so was Gallas. Every prediction was against Arsenal. Chelsea lost 2 points that should have been bagged with ease. But now the only right thing to do is to look forward and brush aside yesterday’s match.
Assuming Chelsea will beat Newcastle, the gap between #1 and #2 will be 5 points. To clear the picture, let’s say Arsenal is only contending for the third spot. Based on this situation, I’d like to throw a few thoughts and numbers for readers to comment on.
The Curse of Accommodating Shevchenko and Ballack
Players are brought in to support the team, not the other way round. Chelsea is consistently exhibiting two different qualities of play within 90 minutes. The first half seems to be an experiment, an attempt to make the most out of big investments. The second half seems to be the lethal Chelsea rescue operation. When gamblers lose money, they play another game for the motive of winning back the money already lost.
Is Sheva starting every game in an attempt to “recover” the big money put into his transfer? How long can Chelsea wait to see him regain his lost confidence? Robben electrifies the game on the left while Essien does the same on the right, why doesn’t Chelsea play the whole 90 minutes like that? Why do you wait until you’re against the wall? Wait a minute, am I forgetting the mighty Joe Cole? Where are the wingers when the one strength your star striker has is aerial?
Manchester United and the Statistical Challenge
Manchester United is on a high. They are looking extremely good. But a flashback of numbers presents a thought-provoking picture. In the FA Premier League ManU has played 561 matches, won 353 (63%) and drawn 128 (23%). Using this rate of performance, ManUs expected number of wins in a season should be 24 with 9 ties — that leaves the club with an impressive 81 points. The highest ManU has ever scored in EPL is 92 way back in 1993-94 season (in 42 matches, not 38) and then 91 after a 6-year gap in 1999-00. The untouchable Arsenal team scored 90 points when it last won the EPL in 2003-04. The resurgent Chelsea scored a record-breaking 95 and 91 back-to-back in the last two seasons.
Based on current table the extrapolated points for ManU are 98 by the end of the season, while Chelsea looks to be scoring 86. And this is where I raise the question; can ManU really become the statistical anomaly? The last 2 times ManU crossed the 90-points mark, it was Cantona, Giggs, Keane and Hughes playing for them in 1993-94, and in 1999-00 they enjoyed the magical partnership of Andy Cole (19 goals) and Dwight Yorke (20 goals) leaving Arsenal trailing by 18 points at the end of season. Based on ManUs current team and increased competitiveness of EPL, I doubt ManU will break its own record of 92 points and I strongly believe ManU will see a mini-slump.
And a slump doesn’t mean 3 defeats on a trot — for clubs like ManU, Arsenal and Chelsea, a slump is simply not winning one match after another. After all, didn’t Chelsea unexpectedly lose quite a few points end of last season — who thought they would lose points to the struggling Fulham? Don’t get me wrong here and start getting all touchy. There are no undertones. All I’m doing is presenting some facts, and questioning the wisdom of expecting ManU to perform like this till May!
The Title Race
The average EPL winning score is 85, lowest 75 and highest 95. The extrapolated score for Chelsea is 86, while ManU seems to be flying up to 98. For Chelsea I can say, they might lose even more points ending up 80ish or they could push it upward with their commitment to bring it closer to 90 – and I don’t think many of you would disagree on 80-90 range being achievable for Chelsea.
But, how many of you would really want to bet on ManU going past their 42-match highest of 92? Truth is, ManU is having a party right now! It is extremely commendable and must be applauded no matter which club you have pledged your loyalty to. But can this last? And I must admit that IF ManU really goes on to setting that record, I will have no complains watching Neville raise the silverware instead of Terry. I will be ready to concede defeat to a brilliant team. I will respect ManU for the very reason I love Chelsea – the undying spirit and consistency.
After last night, the premiership race has turned the heat on Chelsea. Chelsea has to stay strong now, and I have complete faith in Mourinho and his squad. I expect this season to end on a very close call, perhaps as close as 1997-98 and 1998-99 seasons. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the invincible Schumacher was defeated by Alonso in San Marino by one-fifth of a second. But I did love every bit of that race. Despite whoever wins the EPL this year, Chelsea and ManU will entertain everyone with their title race.