It’s been a tough old week for our title rivals. I never thought I could enjoy us being out of the European Cup but what can you say? Watching the games midweek has somehow lightened my mood. The headlines have followed Rooney’s tendon injury but it was the battering, in every sense of the word, that Arsenal took from an exhilarating Barcelona that could have the greater consequence for their season. No Gallas, no Fábregas and a calf injury to Ashavin at this stage of the season is the kind of ill fortune you can do without. Arsenal were chasing shadows for longer than a Hank Marvin fan club. With knocks to their confidence and physical knocks to such key players it will need all of the infamous ‘spirit’ of Arsene’s team to stage another come back and claim a trophy. The thing is, in this very strange season, you wouldn’t rule that out.
United missing Rooney for Saturday’s big game might mean little in the context of the match. Berbatov is a £30 million pound player who will hold the line and be a big threat to our defence for 90 minutes. Good teams have good players to step in. If we play well this Saturday, we’ll win. If we don’t turn up, we’ll lose. Whatever the result it won’t decide the title. What will ultimately decide the title is the five games that follow. Rooney has made Man Utd look a one man team at times this season and the impact of losing him over a month in the final run could be decisive. It may be cynical but if Rooney or Fábregas are no longer there to snatch a winner, if either team is looking weary on their feet, then we need to capitalise on it. We have the time to rest players and to focus on every league match. Added to this is we may have hit top firm at the just the right time. The question is, how many goals are we going to score this week? More than ten?!
Two weeks ago our season was seriously in danger of going out with a whimper rather than a bang. Too many of the top players simply didn’t turn up for our home defeat against Inter and we let the frustration of Nerazzurri’s fine defensive display get the better of us. The quick, one touch passing we’ve seen many times this season was left wanting and we resorted to hopeful punts up to the penalty box. Blackburn followed and after a much improved first half a languid second meant we had lost our slender one point advantage over Man Utd. Our hopes for the title were on the slide and we needed a performance. What we got were not one but two first class displays. A tired start to the Portsmouth game was quickly forgotten as we hit top gear in the second half. After the comedy of the fortunate first goal the other four were a little more emphatic. The good form continued straight into the Villa match and the fantastic show of quick tempo football was a joy to watch. Chelsea have found their mojo again.
We can guess how Man U are likely to play on Saturday. The two wide players will be defensive to stifle the full backs, aggressive pressing in the centre by the three in midfield and some quick breaks if play in broken up higher up the pitch. We need to show our quality in midfield and the quick exchanges that brought the goals last week can cause an oddly shaky Ferdinand and Vidic real problems. I think Obi Mikel, an unsung player in recent weeks, could be the key. If he plays to his current form we can win the midfield battle. United occasionally like to make long passes from the back and pick up the pieces, he’ll need to win the second balls and keep the ball moving quickly when pressured. Giggs may be used high in central midfield to make his life difficult, he’ll not only have to cover well defensively but make sure he starts some attacks. No Rooney can give an advantage to our centre halfs. Berbatov will not pressurise the defence anywhere near as effectively, a burst forward from the full backs, Alex or Terry could contribute massively in setting up play. We need to be brave and demonstrate exactly why we deserve to be champions. If we continue to play half as well the last two games we’ve got a hell of a chance.