What a day. In a season that will be remembered for its seemingly endless series of surprises, today’s action went over and above anything that has come before it. With the races for first and fourth place in grave danger of being put to rest, wins for Manchester United courtesy of a 93rd minute header from Paul Scholes and a fantastic victory for Spurs over Chelsea means that its still very much “game on” in the pursuit of the spoils on offer in the league.
Manchester City 0 – 1 Manchester United
Tottenham 2 – 1 Chelsea
Given the past fortnight suffered by Manchester United it seemed inevitable that their luck would eventually turn. Having been eliminated from Europe in devastating circumstances and then knocked from their perch in the Premier League, the danger of a season that once promised so much petering out to a pitiful finish was a very realistic possibility. Sitting four points behind Chelsea in the standings this morning, defeat to their bitter rivals in the midday kickoff would surely have been the final nail in the coffin for their title hopes…….. and who would take more enjoyment than Manchester City in being the ones to hammer it in?
Teams like United however don’t win eleven league titles in eighteen years by allowing a dip in form and adverse results compromise any opportunity they have at securing silverware and although they may still end this season with only a League Cup to their name, they have ensured that they will at least push Chelsea (and Arsenal, lets not forget) all the way to the wire as they hunt for their fourth success in a row and their twentieth top flight title in all.
If Alex Ferguson could have written a script for today’s action I wholeheartedly doubt that it would have contained any scenes greatly different to what actually played out. A Manchester derby full of passion but lacking in real quality seemed destined to play out to a scoreless draw until Paul Scholes, who as millions of United fans around the world will waste no time in telling you (most likely through the medium of song) has built a career on “scoring goals”, leapt uncontested in the City box to meet Patrice Evra’s 93rd minute cross and expertly direct it past a helpless Shay Given.
For the third time this season United had cruelly waited until the dying stages of a game to inflict defeat on their “noisy neighbours”. Most importantly however, it sent out a clear message to all in West London, no doubt casting their eye over the game, that Manchester United never say die. Whereas Chelsea may have been just seconds away from knowing that should the worst happen later in the day against Tottenham they would still have a three point cushion over United, all of a sudden they were made realize very quickly that they could ill afford any slip ups.
Aside from showing their hometown rivals who was still boss, the manner in which the victory occurred for United could not have been any sweeter. Having given Spurs a lifeline in the race for fourth they now asked for a favour in return. Rarely has there been a case where “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” played out at such high stakes. With the final whistle still echoing around Eastlands, Harry Redknapp would have known that that single goal, one of 101 in Scholes’ glittering career could have immeasurable benefits to his side should they put in a performance of enough intensity and quality that they could take advantage. His pre-match speech must have practically written itself. Carlo Ancelotti undoubtedly spread the word of calm around his ranks, but there was no question that United’s late winner spelled danger for Chelsea on dual fronts.
Having dispatched of Arsenal in midweek the confidence at White Hart Lane would have been little short of its maximum however with a considerable mix of injuries and suspensions and the heroic Ledley King unable to face more action just four days after putting his body through the mill once more against the Gunners it seemed that all indicators pointed to another victory in North East London for the Chelsea machine. What played out could not have been more different.
Spurs attacked Chelsea from the outset and made them look little above ordinary. Gareth Bale, possibly the most improved player in England this season, humiliated Paolo Ferreira, Luka Modric danced around Chelsea’s static midfield and John Terry was made look every bit as slow and lumbering as he is.
Goals in either half from Jermaine Defoe and man of the match Gareth Bale (pictured, left) could have been added to with countless more. Roman Pavlyuchenko and Bale (despite his heroics) were guilty of squandering several excellent chances in the second half and if Alex Ferguson and his crew up North would have any complaints from today’s procedings one may be that somehow Chelsea’s goal difference still remains above their own. A potential injury to Didier Drogba and a suspension for Terry following a red card awarded for two mis-timed tackles in the second half should be enough to make up for such grumblings however.
All eyes now shoot to the run in and in a delicious twist of friends turned foes next weekend’s action sees Manchester United welcome Spurs to Old Trafford as both sides seek to continue their quests for respective successes. Whereas Spurs are now the proud residents of the fourth spot, United must still hope for more favours with Chelsea’s trip to Anfield in a couple of weeks the most likely location for one to occur. The prospect of Liverpool helping United in their efforts to overtake them in total league titles won is enough to turn the stomach of any Liverpool fan, but in a season where they have suffered seemingly constant humiliation, could the chance to show just how strong they can be too hard to refuse? Alex Ferguson and his charges certainly hope so, and with Spurs still to face Man City aswell as United and Man City facing games against Arsenal and Aston Villa also who is to say that their own hopes of Champions League qualification are over?
One thing is for sure, there’s a lot of life left in this season yet………
Chelsea: Stoke (H), Liverpool (A), Wigan (H)
Man United: Tottenham (H) Sunderland (A), Stoke (H)
Arsenal: Wigan (A), Man City (H), Blackburn (A), Fulham (H)
Spurs: Man United (A), Bolton (H), Man City (A), Burnley (A)
Man City: Arsenal (A), Aston Villa (A), Spurs (H), West Ham (A)
Liverpool: West Ham (H), Burnley (A), Chelsea (H), Hull (A)