By Mark Duckworth of The National Game
After the drama of the Premier League that has taken place over the last few weekends, this one was a damp squib. We could have seen new Premier League Champions or United back on top. Instead we got two games that had teams going through the motions and two teams looking for victory.
Liverpool versus Chelsea, was meant to be the game that could hand the title to United, and with Chelsea’s indifferent league away form, the football world waited with anticipation. But when Steven Gerrard misplaced a back pass which led to Didier Drogba rounding the Liverpool keeper, all Liverpool’s fight seem to fade along with the bank holiday weather.
Liverpool did try to put up more of a fight, but the toll of their midweek efforts in the Europa League were quite evident, they looked tired and jaded as Chelsea had all the confidence of league champions and cup finalists. That was all summed up with the ease of Chelsea’s second. Nicolas Anelka was allowed too much time and he crossed for Frank Lampard to head home. Pepe Reina was the only reason this game stayed even remotely close as he made a string of fine saves to deny the rampant Chelsea. The Blues will win the Premier League in front of their home crowd on Sunday if they avoid a defeat to Wigan.
This match up was once regarded as a top four encounter, but with Liverpool’s troubles on and off the pitch it seems they might not even qualify for the Europa League next season. And Rafa may have taken his last walk around Anfield yesterday as he did his post match walk after the game. In stark contrast Ancelloti looks like he could be making a big impact on the English game in his first season as he looks to win a league and cup double.
With Chelsea winning, the pressure was put on United as they looked to avoid a defeat against a former old boy Steve Bruce. The game was understandably full of nerves as both sides struggled to settle on the ball; Sunderland did press the ball well and with a bit more class on the ball could have possible hurt United in the early stages. But it was United’s most improved player of the season Nani who inspired United to get the ball down before he drove home his second goal of the season. Nani has been United’s shining light the second half of the season and after another match winning display, the winger will be hoping he can carry this form into the World Cup.
United’s victory may have only prolonged the title slipping from their grasp, but Sir Alex would have learned a lot from this game and maybe got some answers as to why his side probably won’t be lifting the title next Sunday afternoon. Before Nani settled all the nerves, Sir Alex had seen his supposed 33 million pound man Berbatov miss a host of chances including two simple chances which I’m sure a certain Wayne Rooney would have buried. And that has been United’s stumbling block all season, their lack of goals must be a concern and with the World Cup only weeks away, Sir Alex may be on the hunt for the golden boot winner.
So it all goes down to next Sunday afternoon’s showdown, but I feel the visit of Wigan to Stamford Bridge will only serve to bolster Chelsea’s goal difference, who have already scored seven times on three occasions at home and I wouldn’t bet against that becoming four on Sunday.
Mark Duckworth is a writer for The National Game in Blackburn England. He is a guest columnist for The Soccer Guys.