Date:Sunday April 4 2010
During the course of every season there are pivotal moments. Sometimes they are recognized only in hindsight, on other occasions they are immediately obvious. Yesterday's United v Chelsea game at Old Trafford was one of the latter moments.
Logic suggests that United are still in with a shout at the title after the 2-1 defeat at the hands of their strongest challenger but the script of the season and the dramaturgy of football suggests they have all but won it.
I happen to believe that this defeat is comparable to that we suffered in March 1998 when Arsenal reeled us in. We surrendered the initiative on that afternoon and though we fought hard in the remainder of the season we could never recover. In theory, we can still win it - in reality, we are unlikely to do so.
I would feel otherwise if it was a scrappy, undeserved win. But unfortunately, it wasn't, even allowing for the gross incompetence of the officials who denied United a stonewall penalty and failed to spot that Didier Drogba was about a million miles offside when he scored the second goal. The truth is United would not have deserved a point anyway because we weren't good enough.
We looked jaded, we were overrun in midfield, especially in the first 25 minutes when it looked like it could be a real thrashing - kudos to Rio Ferdinand who was excellent in holding the defence together and repelling Chelsea's constant attacking menace. When they deservedly went ahead, you could see that we would struggle to muster any kind of response and so it proved.
Berbatov looked uncomfortable playing as a lone striker and the pitiful support he received from midfield made things even worse. We could never really get a foothold on the game, we had only a brief period between the 50th and 70th minute when we dominated and pumped crosses into the box and looked capable of scoring the equaliser. In the last 20 minutes, though, even this little momentum has disappeared as tiredness and lack of confidence took their toll.
So, even with the incredible mistakes of the officials, this can't be compared to the Stamford Bridge game even though Fergie's quite right in saying that in both games against Chelsea we've been royally screwed by the officials. But in November we were the better team and would have deserved the win - this time we were vastly inferior to a disciplined, organised, fresh Chelsea team.
In theory, they could drop points, yes. But their imperious performance at Old Trafford showed supreme confidence which should net them maximum points at the two tricky games they have left: Liverpool and Tottenham away. As for the home games, they are up against Stoke, Bolton and Wigan. Surely they just have to turn up for these games and get the points...
So, congratulations Chelsea. You are worthy winners of the game and if you keep your cool in the last 5 games you'll be worthy champions, too. If not... but that is so unlikely, I won't even go there now. As for us: it's been an unexpectedly good season, we put up a real fight for the title and we still have a chance of reaching the semi-final of the European Cup. Bayern won't have the advantage of being fresh, they'll be just as tired as we are after playing 60 minutes with 10 men at Schalke - we have a chance of going through. Bring them on!
Date:Sunday April 4 2010
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