Saturday, April 26, 2008

Some Words on Chelsea v. Manchester United

Okay, enough of this auto-biographical, masturbatory drivel; let's get back to the football. Today witnessed what B-Sky-B/Setanta had been hyping since the top of the season, a Big Four clash worthy of the cut-rate production value, pre-during-post-show Macca-Les-Gray-Keys malarkey about Scudamore's 'Best League in the World.' The title race in England, for all the self-flagellation the league has endured by critical minds in the British Isles, is still very much alive and well, brought back to life in a fashion that hasn't looked this exciting since the early days of ER.

Today's fixture had real verve and purpose, and though Ferguson may have reason to whinge after a decidedly sketchy hand-ball decision at the critical juncture that gave Chelsea the win, he should surely share some of the blame for conjuring Chelsea's long-dormant attacking spirit in the first hour by sending out a cynical first-team. Silvestre? Nani? Fletcher!? The latter especially looked rusty, and the Scotch professor was lucky not to have been carded all over the place with physical play worthy of Boris Johnson.

Chelsea started like a bat out of hell, exhibiting a stream-lined, one-touch passing play that, while lacking the tactical machinations of Mourinho, certainly looked threatening enough for a goal or two. Indeed, after Joe Cole turned and hit the bar around the half-hour mark after a minor penalty shout in the United area, it seemed only a matter of time. Then Ballack's header, and even after Rooney's equalizer on Carvalho's ludicrous error Chelsea didn't look out for the count. Manchester United is still Manchester United so there were some late goal-line heroics in front the Chelsea goal, but they never really pressed like it counted, and the German skipper's penalty against Van Der Saar was enough to put Chelsea level on points but trailing on goal difference.

Avram Grant's Chelsea doesn't consistently patch these crucial performances together, as was exhibited by a limp CL outing at Anfield which, without some bad Liverpudlian finishing and a certain Norwegian's last minute interference, could have been dire. Perhaps more credit should go to the strength of Stamford Bridge, the site of Avram Grant's other rabbit-out-the-hat win against Arsenal which came when the ravenous English press had all but paid his one way flight back to Tel Aviv and Chelsea's own supporters were chanting 'you don't know what you're doing.'

Whether or not this will mean anything remains to be seen, and that is truly what makes the end of the season interesting. The title race, while still in the blinged fist of the Big Four, will now be decided by the following clubs: Wigan, West Ham, Newcastle and Bolton. The Premier League is still a competitive disaster, but the fact that there is a glimmer of hope in England that all is not done and dusted with the title-race is tacit acknowledgment of the plucky resolve of some of the lower-table sides, for whom success in these final fixtures means survival in the top flight. West Ham has always been Manchester United's bottom-table nemesis, and Keegan's resurgent Newcastle should have a few tricks in store for Chelsea.

It may indeed come down to the last day of the season to decide both the eventual title winners as well as those facing some hard time in the Championship. And for Bolton and possibly Wigan, it may mean deciding the title-race as well as their own survival at the same time. This rare instance may be the only sort of competitive edge fans of English football can enjoy these days, so we should be glad to take it.

1 comment:

Georgina Best said...

And what was going on in the subtext of that match. Some real needle between Ronaldo (who I am sure is a realy wind up merchant) and Ballak. Not to mention the trouble afterwards. Chelsea were even arguing with eachother. Just pumped up I wonder or a hint of something else going on under the surface.

No doubt time will tell