The EPL: When the winner takes it all

by Ifreke Inyang

Up until last week, Manchester United were clear favourites to clinch the EPL title for a record 19th time. But Arsenal, at the home, played party spoilers as Aaron Ramsey’s 56th minute finish clinched victory for the faltering Gunners. The win ensured there were only three points and a goal difference of three between the leaders and a resurgent Chelsea. Chelsea travel to Old Trafford believing they can recover their Premier League title with a win, but must also feel some element of jealousy as United have a chance of winning the trophy they most desire – the Champions League, and at Wembley too.

The pair’s fortunes have been inextricably linked throughout the 2010/2011 campaign. They began the season with an unusually hard-fought Community Shield in which John Terry and Wayne Rooney were targeted by fans for their part in the crimes of the recently completed World Cup. Then, United’s propensity to draw matches while Chelsea swept all before them had all suggesting that the Premier League would again be returning to Stamford Bridge with much to spare. But then came the Ray Wilkins affair and a Chelsea slump. While United recovered their footing to go unbeaten until February 5, Chelsea’s form collapsed, and was barely lifted by the £50 million purchase of Fernando Torres. Indeed, their recent surge can be said to have occurred almost in spite of the Spaniard, and not because of him.

It was United who ended the continuing European dream of Chelsea and Roman Abramovich, and with a little in hand too. They dominated at Stamford Bridge, and hit back at Old Trafford when Didier Drogba’s goal had signalled hope. Drogba is still the wrecking ball that United fear, and it was he who supplied the winner in this fixture last season. That it came from an offside position fuelled the Ferguson fire that was still raging last week when his team were denied a penalty at Arsenal and Chelsea’s two strikes against Spurs were wreathed in doubt.

Ferguson’s belief that his team receive no help from officialdom probably dates back years but oil was poured on it by United’s visit to Stamford Bridge where United lost out on a disputed penalty, and David Luiz escaped censure for what had looked at least two bookable offences. Chelsea have been galvanised thereafter, as United had lost the chance to open an 18-point gap on Chelsea.

A resulting FA ban for his post-match comments on that night has clearly not served to rehabilitate Ferguson’s view of refereeing, though it was hardly likely to, and last week’s outburst had him back on the borderlines of acceptability. Perhaps Chelsea have him rattled, though a pre-emptive strike on match officials is now de rigeur for most leading football managers. Howard Webb, veteran of Champions League and World Cup finals, is entrusted with refereeing this affair.

In the blue corner, Carlo Ancelotti remains more circumspect, the phrase “this is football” and a twitch of left eyebrow acting as guard against incriminating himself too much. Players like Terry and Lampard are left to do the talking for him, as they have done throughout the years since Jose Mourinho departed their club.
Such elements have added intrigue to a match that is almost, but not quite with two games to play once it is completed, winner takes all. A victory for either however, will have the other feeling the burn of envy. And if Chelsea win and draw level with United, they might just go on to win the EPL. So just how important is the Manchester United – Chelsea clash this Sunday? I’m afraid I need a new Thesaurus!

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