It has long been the view held of this particular writer that the current crop of players that make up the Manchester United squad are far from invincible, far from special and in fact pretty far from champions. In fact, I would suggest that despite a couple of well seasoned veterans and one stupendously talented and yet stupendously petulant scouser this vintage of the Red Devils is really rather ordinary. Average even.
A ramshackle unbeaten run that was flattened by the belligerent Wolves could easily have been cut short at Villa Park, the Reebok Stadium, Goodison Park, and the Stadium of Light, whilst our tangerine foes in Blackpool were unfortunate not to halt the Mancunians asthmatic trudge over the finish line.
Chelsea’s victory over United at Stamford Bridge last week served as a timely reminder of not only the quality, strength and ability of the Blues squad, but also of that quality that has often been called into question at times this season: desire.
That John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole turned in season best performances on the night was of no surprise but it was the show of grit and determination that was most notable in SW6. After a shocking and unparalleled collapse in both form and confidence at Chelsea over the winter months that had many quarters preparing obituaries for Chelsea, the club has entered spring reinvigorated, unified and collected.
Dismal results away at Arsenal, Birmingham and Wolves, followed by troubling performances at Stamford Bridge against Sunderland, Liverpool and Aston Villa led to the Blues relinquishing their position at the top of the table and accordingly, United stepped up and took their mantle.
The fall of Chelsea during these months was so freak, so unexpected and so distinctly un-Chelsea that the current resurgence domestically and in Europe is something of a welcome return to normality. Naturally, injuries and suspensions have played their part (Lampard, Essien and Drogba all notable absentee’s) however to lay blame at the door of these universal casualties of the game is trite and inconsequential, (We rode home to the Double last season without the influential Essien for the majority) instead a more introspective approach is needed and the problems at Chelsea during this time seemed endemic.
Perhaps the sharp exit from the FA Cup , a blessing in disguise, has focused the minds and hearts at Cobham and beyond and now the aim of the team is not just to deliver European glory to the halls of SW6 but also to reestablish their own dominance within the minds of the footballing public and exert this over their close rivals.
The arrivals of Fernando Torres and in particular, the enthralling David Luiz signified that Chelsea were far from giving up on this campaign and the form that the Blues have shown since then has been promising. Next weekends test against Manchester City will be a huge indication of whether or not Carlo Ancelotti’s charges can claw their way back into contention.
Pride is something that is never lacking amongst the players, staff and supporters of Chelsea, however a mid-season crisis of confidence hit the club and its fan-base hard, the squad now has the chance to restore that value it stands for most through a fightback that will go on until the last day of the season.
United’s current collapse and with Arsenal’s inevitable fall from grace have bought the league campaign back into focus and with games in hand over the sides above them, and with points still to be claimed from games against Manchester United, Tottenham and the aforementioned City, the chance for Chelsea to defend their title has once more been placed into their hands.
Pride and honour are the consolation prizes for a Blues side that has been written off more times than they would care to remember. Defy the critics this time however and it will be the greatest victory of them all.