Ahh the delicious irony of it all. With just two Premiership games left of what has been the most unpredictable season in living memory, (glorious will be pre-fixed to unpredictable should Manchester United drop points against either, or preferably both of their final opponents West Ham and Wigan Athletic whilst the Blues fare better against Newcastle and Bolton) Chelsea find themselves level on points at the summit of the table albeit somewhat slightly adrift in terms of goal-difference.
The spirited manner of Chelsea’s vim and vigour victory over the Red Devils lifted the effervescent home support giving renewed enthusiasm, for what might be. For once the dissenting voices were muted. Cries of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’, had they been heard, would only have been emanating from the corner of the Shed housing those festooned in the red and white of Manchester United.
Fergie it was who gambled with his team selection and lost. Making six changes to the side which drew 1-1 with Barcelona in the Nou Camp earlier in the week including omitting Ronaldo, Tevez, Scholes, Evra, Hargreaves and Park was in my humble opinion an act of brazen arrogance which deserved the result it earned him. Maybe he believed that the likes of Anderson, Nani, Fletcher and Silvestre would be good enough to secure that precious point he needed or even maybe bag all three against a near enough full-strength Chelsea side. It was a misguided theory. Buoyed by John Arne Riise’s startling own-goal equaliser at Anfield earlier in the week and wanting to put on a show of strength for absent colleague Frank Lampard, on compassionate leave to mourn the tragic untimely loss of his dear mother Pat, Chelsea were in no mood to surrender meekly to anyone let alone Manchester United.
In a manner which has reminded me of the way the once mighty Arsenal frittered away what looked like an unassailable five point Premiership lead as recently as February, United’s recent form has seen them pick up just five points from their last four games. On February 11th Chelsea were eight points adrift of the lead and now, just a few short weeks later, they share it.
There are of course those of a Chelsea persuasion that are never satisfied. Some of these people will tell you that if the Blues had not conceded that ridiculous 90th minute Emile Heskey equaliser against Wigan Athletic then they would be clear at the summit. Others might opine that Avram Grant’s seemingly inept ‘tactical’ substitutions which permitted Rottenham Dropspur to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat at Three Point lane last month may ultimately have cost Chelsea the title. Post Mourinho, with the exception perhaps of Tuesday’s draw at Anfield, following each and every game that Chelsea have failed to win the knives have been out for the manager. Can you imagine the hostile scenes at Stamford Bridge yesterday afternoon had Chelsea lost? That proud unbeaten record gone … to say nothing of United winning the title in our own back yard. What a nightmare. But the fact is the Blues won.
Whichever way you look at it Avram Grant put one over on Sir Alex Ferguson. When asked what he thought about Chelsea’s title chances following his team’s impressive victory a wry smile formed on the Israeli’s normally doleful countenance. ‘Of course we can win it,’ he’d quipped, with a believable air of confidence. ‘If you are not optimistic now, you shouldn’t be in sport.’
And so it came to pass that Avram Grant finally presided over a Chelsea team that won a game that really mattered. Of course all games matter, and under Grant’s stewardship, as the statistics will tell you, Chelsea have won plenty, but this victory over so-called champions-elect Manchester United may well prove to be a pivotal result in terms of him finally being accepted as the Blues manager.
The circumstances surrounding Avram Grant’s accedence to the job and his modest pedigree in the game have thus far denied him the kind of spontaneous authority and respect enjoyed by his predecessor, but as we all know very well football is not only a results driven business it is a fickle one as well. Should the Israeli outmanoeuvre Rafa Benitez and Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final second leg on Wednesday evening, in reaching the final he will have achieved something that Jose Mourinho, notwithstanding all his fabulous accomplishments, failed to do.
If the Blues subsequently go on to win the trophy, possibly by defeating Manchester United in Moscow on May 21st, Grant will have proved himself beyond all reasonable doubt to be a worthy occupant of the Stamford Bridge managerial hot-seat … at least until that next moody result against the likes of Barnsley or Wigan Athletic. Everyone knows that in football, unless of course your name is Arsene Wenger, you’re only as good as your last result.
Of Moscow we can still dream, for now though let’s once more unify our vocal support for Chelsea Football Club. This time in the red corner it will be Liverpool … let’s make it a Blue day for them.
In Avram we trust.
See you at the game!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’ and ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’, his new book ‘One Man Went to Mow’ is out now. Copies are available to buy with a discount of up to 30% and free postage within the UK at http://www.overlandandsea.net/