Chelsea’s win over Manchester City, along with Arsenal’s draw at West Brom means the title race is now well and truly a three horse one.
Some people may look at Chelsea and claim that nine points is too big a gap to make up at this stage of the season, but with a game in hand plus a trip to Old Trafford on the cards, it would be foolish to count out Carlo Ancelotti’s men out just yet.
Arsenal seem to have fallen to pieces somewhat lately as the pressure plus the usual injuries has hit the squad hard, although like Chelsea a game in hand plus a match against United still to play means that the five point lead the Reds have over Arsene Wenger’s men cannot be overestimated.
The fact is all three top teams have a realistic shot at the Premier League crown and while United have the upper hand, it’s now at the point where one loss could change the entire look of the title race.
The odd thing about this season, is that all three teams are suffering from a lack of real quality in a major department. It may sound harsh but from a United perspective, the central midfield has been under-performing for the past few months.
Not since the early part of the season when Paul Scholes was orchestrating United’s victories with passing that was the equal of any player, has the Reds central midfield looked truly world class. Some may argue that Michael Carrick is a true unsung hero, but while I’ll admit he does a job, I think to claim he’s in the same class as Sergio Busquets, Xavi Alonso, Michael Essien, or even a fully fit Owen Hargreaves is ridiculous. Darren Fletcher’s had a poor season, easily his worst since 2005/06 and there’s no denying that Anderson still hasn’t convinced.
All in all the entire central midfield leaves a lot to be desired and it’s no surprises that the likes of Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell have been linked with United almost daily. Elsewhere at United the entire team has class in abundance, with three of the league’s top strikers vying for two or even one place, Nani, Giggs, Valencia not to mention Park capable of filling in one the wings and two world class defenders for each defensive position, it’s only through injuries that weaknesses have been exposed.
United are sitting top of the league in the semi finals of the FA cup and the quarter finals of the Champions league, yet I can’t recall a weaker central midfield in my 20 odd years of watching the team. You could argue the Kleberson, Djemba twin days were the nadir, but you also had a certain Roy Keane still around when those particular examples of footballing excellence were treating the Old Trafford faithful to champagne football.
The fact is ask almost any United fan what area of the team is not up to scratch and you’re guaranteed the same answer: “the centre of midfield is simply not good enough.” Some would go even further and say it’s actually quite poor. Scholes may still be one of the finest passers of the ball around, but his appearances are becoming less frequent and he needs an energetic battler alongside him, which United just don’t possess.
I’ve watched every United game this season and while I always insist on getting behind the team whenever I’m at the match, the amount of poor performances I’ve witnessed over the past few months is actually staggering. Nine draws and three losses is hardly a disaster but many of those dropped points and dare I say even a few wins have come on the back of an aggravating 90 minutes.
Thanks to the brilliance of Nani, Berbatov, Rooney and a certain Mexican lad, The Reds have been able to find winners, or equalisers which have kept them top of the table, after lacklustre games.
Arsenal’s lack of a strong goalkeeper is well documented and I won’t repeat what’s been noted over and over again. I’ll simply state this the re-signing of Jens Lehmann speaks volumes. Yes there’s an injury crisis at the Emirates, but if the choice is between a 41 year old and Manuel Almunia, then your in a bit of trouble to say the least. That’s not the only problem the Gunners face, there’s also the centre back department and a lack of a really tough midfielder. The entire central area looks weak and has already cost Arsenal three parts of a possible quadruple.
A team that once prided itself on being able to decimate the lower sides in the league, now has trouble taking more than a point over two games from the likes of West Brom and Newcastle.
Chelsea on the other hand have a strong goalkeeper, central defence and midfield with strong players in practically every department. However upfront the West Londoners seemed to have lost their way somewhat.
Nicolas Anelka’s brace against the mighty Copenhagen are the only goals Chelsea’s entire strike force has managed in the last eight games. It hasn’t truly mattered due to Frank Lampard’s penalties and David Luiz’s eye for goal, but that statistic is not something that should be ignored.
Despite having some of the most feared strikers on the planet, Chelsea’s forwards have struggled of late and both Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres seem shadows of their former selves.
Chelsea of course, have been beaten an astounding seven times already this season, with nine games left to go and if United make it eight at Old Trafford next month, then their title aspirations will be well and truly over.
The point I’m labouring towards in case you hadn’t noticed, is that all three title challengers are severely lacking in an integral part of their team. In the past whoever’s lifted the Premier League crown has usually had quality throughout their entire side. Yet this season we could see a team with a below par central midfield, or one with a championship level -if that- goalkeeper or even a side with strikers that can’t score lift the title.
We seem to have reached the point where rather than the best team winning the league, it’s more than likely it’s simply going to be the least worst.
In all fairness though, I couldn’t care less if United won the title on goal difference thanks to ridiculous refereeing, knocking Liverpool off their perch is all that matters. After all Chelsea only won it last season thanks to Steven Gerrard.
Am I talking complete nonsense and just acting like a spoiled little prawn sandwich eater? Or is there a rare facet of truth in my barely coherent rantings? Feel free to leave your insults or agreements below.
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