Another weekend, another twist in the race for the coveted prize of the Premier League. This weekend saw two different league leaders and one team slip a little off the pace. Seeing the reaction of Liverpool’s no. 1 fan Gary Neville, you would have thought they had just won the title – especially when listening to the talk of the fans after the game who sounded confident – wait, actually cocky – in their views and opinions. In fairness that is partly understandable if you have won as 11 titles in 17 seasons – wouldn’t you be?
But there is still ‘legs’ in this title race. United have tricky ties against Bolton, Man City, Tottenham and of course a right old ding-dong against Chelsea on Easter Saturday. They are in the driving seat, but if Chelsea wins their game in hand at Portsmouth on Wednesday night the gap will only be one point. With so many games to go that is little ground to make up – hardly time to be making space in the trophy cabinet.
The key for Chelsea is getting some level of fluidity back, and fast. They look very ragged, playing with no hunger or desire to win the title. Big game players (Lampard, Ballack and Anelka to name a few) have disappeared for them over the last few games and Ancelloti’s expression after Blackburn’s equaliser served to show that behind the scenes, the garden isn’t so rosy at The Bridge – combined with the constant complaining over decisions not going their way. The Champions League defeat to Inter was a bitter pill to swallow and wasn’t watered down with the result at Blackburn, but all is not lost even if they are on the ropes.
Meanwhile across The Thames, Arsenal are proving to mount a serious challenge and for the first time since their 2003-04 success, they look like a serious outfit. If they’re going to win the title it will need to be done in a ‘smash-n-grab’ style, staying in contention like an athlete before the final bend of an 800m race. Many of their players haven’t won titles and are relatively in-experienced (in comparison to their rivals) of leading from the front, with all the expectation and pressure from being the front runner it could potentially prove tough with many games left.
The more the title race consists of all three teams the better it will suit Arsenal, as they can concentrate on applying pressure to United in the hope they’ll be in a position with a 2-3 games to overtake them. Their biggest test will be how they handle juggling Champions League and Premier League matches in quick succession.
Now who has the biggest smile of all, not Messrs Wenger, Ferguson or Ancelotti but Mr. Scudamore and providing further evidence of the excitement of the Premier League after securing a £1.3bn overseas TV rights deal last week, Ker-ching!!