The battle for Champions League football continues this weekend, and the fight looks like going to the bitter end. Here is how it looks. We have four league matches remaining. We currently lie third (before this weekends fixtures) one point ahead of Arsenal with a match in hand, and three points clear of fifth placed Tottenham on the same matches played. Our match in hand over Arsenal is at home to Tottenham on Wednesday. Both north London sides have eminently winnable fixtures this weekend, with Arsenal away at already relegated QPR, and Tottenham at home to Southampton. Chelsea, on the other hand face a trip to Old Trafford on Sunday. Whatever happens there, Wednesday nights match looks like the proverbial six pointer. With Everton also to visit us on the final day, and our other fixture away to Aston Villa on the 12th, who are fighting for their lives in a relegation dog scrap, we certainly have our work cut out to make the top four. It is an extremely hard run in, aside from the fact that we now have a Europa league final thrown into the mix between the Villa and Everton fixtures. It’s easy to over analyse things by looking at prospective points attained by our rivals, but I’ll attempt to simplify things. Our three-point lead over Tottenham is boosted by a goal difference almost twice as many as theirs. This will not be over turned between now and the end of the season. This effectively means we can finish above them by finishing on the same points. That requires nine points from the twelve remaining, assuming the worst-case scenario that they don’t drop any points till the end of the season. So if they were to beat us Wednesday, and lets hope that doesn’t happen, we would have to win our other three fixtures starting at Manchester United on Sunday. If we could win Wednesday then defeat at Old Trafford would not be disastrous, as long as we could beat Villa away and Everton at home. In fact draws at Old Trafford and at home to Tottenham would still leave us a point ahead with two to play.
So what of our chances on Sunday? Well for one, Manchester United already have the league wrapped up, and can no longer attain our record points total of 95 amassed in season 04-05 thanks to their draw away at Arsenal last time out, so there is a hope that they may take their foot of the gas. After all, when we had the title wrapped up in 05-06, we then preceded to loose our final two matches away at Blackburn and Newcastle. Even if they go all guns blazing, we can take some heart from our most recent meetings. The great FA cup quarterfinal come back of this season was our last fixture at Old Trafford, a match that we dominated for 80 minutes. Our last fixture against them was the replay of said fixture, where again we were by far the better side for the majority of the match and deserved our 1-0 win. Our away league form at Old Trafford makes more difficult reading, suffice to say we have one win in our last ten visits. That was of course an absolute epic in the 09-10 double season run in, Joe Cole and Drogba registering in our 1-2 win.
Somewhat worryingly Howard Webb has been appointed as the match official, fresh from taking charge of Real Madrid v Borrusia Dortmund on Tuesday. Don’t expect us to win any penalties, or get any decisions of any kind in our favour for that matter.
Our only long-term injury continues to be Oriol Romeu, who wont feature again this season. John Mikel Obi wasn’t involved in Thursday nights win against Basle due to a hip injury he got in training, and is still a doubt, so may only make the bench at best. Eden Hazard was also replaced due to injury in that match, but is expected to be fit for this one. Ashley Cole returns from his European ban to feature, Ba is also likely to return up front.
As far as Manchester United are concerned, Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young both miss out due to injury. Whether Ferguson will choose to rotate his squad now they can’t beat our points record remains to be seen.
It’s a vital run to the end of the season now, and we need everyone fully behind the team, so, if your going to Old Trafford, lets repeat the atmosphere there from our FA cup-tie, when everyone in the away end did the club proud.
Come on the Chels!