Just 180 minutes of nail-biting football will decide this year’s Premier League title. Manchester United’s home fixture against in-form Tottenham Hotspur this Saturday lunchtime is followed on 2 May by Liverpool’s match with Chelsea at Anfield. While United must win any failure by Chelsea could see the title head to Old Trafford.
Spurs’ record at Old Trafford is laughably poor but that is unlikely to fool Sir Alex Ferguson this weekend. Indeed, with Harry Redknapp’s side having beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea in the past week the Londoners feel confident on improving a record that has not included an Old Trafford win since 1989. That victory followed a League Cup win for the Londoners on the same ground six weeks before.
Records are there for breaking but Redknapp’s push for entry into the Champions League third qualification round next season is motivation enough for the Londoners, who lie just two points ahead of Manchester City in fourth.
The question on most United fans’ lips is which Ferguson side will turn up on Saturday: the one with the desire and drive to dominate and ultimately win the Manchester derby last weekend, or the limp outfit that failed to score at Blackburn Rovers?
Ultimately that may come down to the fitness of Wayne Rooney, who looked no more than 80 per cent of his peak against City at the weekend.
Champions League qualification is a problem unlikely to concern Rafa Benitez in 10 days time, with Liverpool five points off Spurs having played a game more. Realistically, the Anfield outfit will fight it out with Aston Villa for a place in next season’s Europa League.
But with Liverpool’s semi-final second leg against Athletico Madrid in the same competition taking place less than three days before Chelsea’s visit Benitez’ side being physically and mentally shattered is a very real threat.
Notwithstanding Liverpool supporters’ laughable desire to see their own side lose. There’s nothing like hating your rivals more than loving your own team. See also: Manchester City.
Chelsea’s last six visits to Anfield in all competitions has yielded just one win but Liverpool’s league position and fixture list makes Carlo Ancelotti’s side marginal favourites for the win.
While United face a trip to Sunderland before a final day home fixture against Stoke, Chelsea play the Potteries club this weekend before a home game against Wigan Athletic on the final day. Each manager will expect their sides to pick up maximum points from these fixtures.
Perhaps United’s only real advantage is that Ferguson’s side meets Spurs a week before Chelsea’s Anfield visit. Win and the pressure for Chelsea to beat Liverpool is then immense. Pressure does strange things after all, with Ancelotti’s outfit unable to cope with their cross town rivals at the weekend.
Indeed, Frank Lampard openly admitted that United’s last-gasp victory at Eastlands deflated his side ahead of the visit to Spurs.
The stress is certainly showing on both sides in what is perhaps the tightest top flight finish since Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield to take the 1988/89 Football League First Division. That year the London side took the title on goals scored, although it would take an extraordinary set of results to produce a similar finish this season.
Down then to which team scores the better result against top-four hopefuls. History suggests United, circumstance marginally favours Chelsea.