Football At The Top Is RuthlessPosted on: 25 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
Chelsea and Manchester United have seven days to keep their season alive.
One week you’re up and one week you’re down. Football at the top table can be a ruthless business but when you’re in charge of either of the countries two top football sides, seven days can have a shuddering effect on your trophy aspirations.
Chelsea and Manchester United are both chasing the Premier League title as well as European glory in the Champions League. But both clubs had eyes on winning the FA Cup and Carling Cup too.
Chelsea failed in the Carling Cup final, losing to Tottenham in extra-time whilst Manchester United were dumped out of both competitions before the semi-final stage.
So for Avram Grant and Sir Alex Ferguson, now is the time to stand up and be counted.
Earlier in the week Chelsea were gifted a last-minute score draw away at Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final, putting them in the driving seat for the return leg this coming Wednesday (30th April) whilst the almost untouchable Cristiano Ronaldo fluffed a penalty against Barcelona for Manchester United as the game ended scoreless.
United welcome Barcelona to Old Trafford on Tuesday evening (29th April) knowing conceding an away goal to Barca could spell curtains for their latest European adventure.
But neither side will have their eyes or ears focused on European encounters this weekend. There are other matters to be settled.
Chelsea host United at Stamford Bridge on Saturday in what is without doubt the most decisive Premier League match of the season.
Defending champions Manchester United take a three-point lead to west London and victory over Chelsea would take them six points clear with only two games to play.
But United’s far superior goal difference would effectively give them an unassailable lead.
However, if Chelsea triumph at the Battle Of The Bridge, they would be level on points with United to set up a potentially thrilling end to the season. Chelsea’s wobbles seem to be over and Grant has got the team functioning again. Unbeaten at home in the Premier League in over two years, Chelsea will be more than confident of turning United over.
But Grant was dealt a major blow this week with the news that England midfielder Frank Lampard could be missing for the next two matches after the death of his mother.
The Israeli in charge has come under relentless pressure from media and Blues supporters for his handling of team affairs and now is surely the time to deliver a hammer blow to those doubters.
United on the other hand have been inspired by the brilliance of Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. As well as having a steady defence, Ferguson’s outfit have looked like favourites for a second successive title.
But a couple of indifferent recent performances mean their title credentials are now being examined. The effect of Wednesday night’s goalless draw with Barcelona may have a serious effect on the mindset of United’s key players including Ronaldo.
Facts and stats are often brought into help predict the outcomes of such match-ups. One that sticks out more than any other is the fact that United have failed to score a goal at Stamford Bridge since Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took control of the Blues- a run of 474 minutes since Ryan Giggs netted in 2002.
But with seemingly so little between the two sides and with the stakes so high, Saturday’s game could be decided by a piece of magic.
Just who will be the one to conjure up that killer blow and put a major dent into the loser’s plot for glory. It may well be the beginning of the end with a Champions League semi-final decider to come just three days later.
By Mark O'Haire
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