Saturday 27 March 2010: Chelsea thump Aston Villa 7-1 in the Premier League. Tuesday 30 April 2010: Chelsea do not have to play a mid-week Champions League game, because, well you know, we sort of went out of the competition. Tuesday 30 April (again, but later): Wayne Rooney hobbles off the pitch in Manchester United’s Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich.
Saturday 3 April 2010: Chelsea travel to Manchester United in a crucial Premier League meeting, fresh from inflicting a thrashing, rested from not playing a mid-week game, and ready to face a side missing their talisman. Ladies and gentlemen, there are points on a plate at Old Trafford.
Maybe that’s simplifying it all a tad, but the truth is, an opportunity in the title race has arisen, and after blowing similar chances previously in the season, this is one which simply must be taken.
We have gotten to a stage in the season where it is possible for one team to win the league, simply by winning all of their matches. With Arsenal dropping points against Birmingham, and consequently losing ground in the title race, all eyes are on Manchester this weekend as the top two face off. If United win, they extend their lead at the top of the table to four points with five games left. One of those games is at home to Spurs, so call it a lead of seven points.
If Chelsea win, they leapfrog United and put themselves in pole position. Five more wins, and it’s our title.
With a lengthy injury list of our own, the team virtually picks itself. Expect Didier Drogba to return to the starting line-up; if he doesn’t, we’ll see both of the top two scorers in the Premier League left out of their respective side’s starting XI’s.
Impressive performances all round last weekend may give Carlo Ancelotti a few decisions to make though, not least in midfield, where Michael Ballack could be given a recall and Nicolas Anelka shifted back to the wastelands of the right-wing.
Other than Rooney’s absence, Manchester United don’t have too much to worry about. John O’Shea could make a return to the side, while Owen Hargreaves could also make the bench after what seems like a decade or so out of action. Provided Dimitar Berbatov is given fresh batteries (he must be running on Tesco Values right now) before the game, they should also have a potent attack.
Pre-scandal John Terry was the hero last time the two sides met, heading in the only goal of the game in a 1-0 Chelsea win back in November 2009. Glossing over the last few meetings at Old Trafford swiftly, the last time we won at ‘The Theatre’ against United was back in May 2005, when Tiago scored THAT goal. If anyone replicates the Portuguese misfit’s effort, we may even see Ancelotti raise both eyebrows instead of the standard one.
We did win an FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford in April 2007 though, against Blackburn Rovers, which of course took us to Wembley where we beat Manchester United in the final.
Mike Dean is the referee for the Old Trafford meeting, which has pleased neither set of fans. Dean has officiated five Chelsea games so far this season, meaning he’s featured in as many Blues games as Ross Turnbull. He’s also taken charge of three United games. In these eight games, Dean has shown 42 yellow cards, or just over 5 a game. He also showed red cards to Juliano Belletti (debatable) and Michael Ballack (okay, blatant) in Chelsea’s 2-4 defeat against Manchester City in February.
The 12.45pm kick-off means we’ll either spend the rest of Saturday jumping for joy, or feeling near-suicidal at the thought of another United title win. This is one hell of an opportunity to nudge ahead in the title race as the end quickly approaches. Is it too much to ask for another 7-1?