The end is nigh. The end of the league season for 2009/10 that is. There will be a full inquiry (or just another blog entry) come the end of the season, for the time being though we can partake in that wonderful pastime of surveying the scene and present and postulate some end-time scenarios. (Of course by end-time we’re only referring to end-of-season-time and nothing more apocalyptic than that … for now.)
So far in 2010 I expressed my interest in how the New Year was shaping as United hit their stride while other clubs were still scrambling about. Then there was the emergence Arsenal from being down and out after defeats to United and Chelsea to becoming genuine title contenders following their battling victory against Stoke City.
More recently still I covered how United’s victory over Liverpool was right, even if it didn’t mean they should be champions. Then there was the over-reaction to the United squad having lost to Chelsea, although that did play neatly into Chelsea taking the initiative.
Now with less than a handful of games left the situation looks very interesting indeed. Chelsea’s result against Bolton still leaves them in the driving seat and although their remaining fixtures don’t appear that easy, when United donate two points to Sam Allardyce you cannot guarantee they’ll get the maximum points from their remaining fixtures and that is exactly what they need to pose a chance at establishing two great records – first team to win it four times in a row and the record number of league titles surpassing Liverpool. Arsenal are still in the mix with the game against Tottenham being critical to their chances – anything less than a win being a significant dent in their chances. One thing is for certain at the moment and that is that it is a proper three horse race for the time being.
So as far as United are concerned their run-in has been as patchy as their season has been overall. If there’s been a hallmark of 2009/10 it’s been the lack of killer instinct on the part of any of the teams. United have typified that more than ever which is a bit unusual for a Ferguson team. I don’t buy into the fall of United being down to the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo, in fact I think the purchase of Valencia has been alright and he plays like a winger should. It does appear as though the goals are drying up and are not as liberal as before and when the burden has been placed on Rooney it’s no surprise that they have struggled in his absence. As Liverpool prove, it’s not a good thing to place your eggs in one basket.
United, however have that old Champions syndrome, when they’ve been there before it’s dangerous to rule them out … however they are not in control of their own destiny. City at City is not a straightforward win, and I certainly hope Tevez has his revenge for being knocked out of the League Cup and for the lack of trust put in him by United. If United drop points there the mountain will be even harder to climb. Though after that it really shouldn’t be a problem for them to get nine points from their games against Spurs, Sunderland and Stoke. Hacing said that, it should have been a problem getting three points from Blackburn. (Worth linking with this blog entry as well which is illuminative of the United fan’s lot.)
Meanwhile, Arsenal are having a chuckle. Quietly stringing along a series of results that put them in a delicious position of potentially leapfrogging the Red Devils, which I’m sure would be something to be savoured by any Gooner. It’s only right and fair that they should continue to harbour hopes of clinching the most unlikely Premier League championship win of Wenger’s career. Yet it would be wrong if they won it, really. Not criminal wrong, you understand, just wrong like Liverpool winning the Champions League in 2005. Great comeback, exciting drama, but hardly the best team in England, let alone Europe and Arsenal would similarly have to face up to similar charges in the unlikely event of Cesc Fabregas hobbling up to collect the trophy.
Of the three clubs, after Spurs, Arsenal have the easiest run-in the only significant threat coming from Man City and that’s at the Emirates. Yeah Wigan and Blackburn look tricky away fixtures, but if you can win at Stoke City, then these teams can be beaten. (Good to see the Arsenal perspective shared from here likewise realistically clinging on.)
In a very real way then it is Chelsea’s to lose. I’d like to think they would have the character and quality to push on and clinch the thing from here. In Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba they have the spine of the side that won it twice before United went on their winning binge. They do have what it takes to get results against Spurs, Stoke and Liverpool and if they can get 7 points from those games they would be in prime position to win their final game against Wigan and put a stop to United’s bid.
I hope they do, anyway.