The weekend that could have a pretty important bearing on the outcome of the title race is upon us. With all of the big 4 facing each other in two very important matches, today, the 23rd of March promises to be a Grand Slam Sunday.
Manchester United vs Liverpool
If you could say one match was less important than the other, then it would be this one. No matter what Liverpudlians or Rafa Benitez say, Liverpool are out of the title race. They are 11 points behind Manchester United whom they are facing and even if they win this fixture, it will still be quite impossible for them to get back 8 points with the form the other 3 are in.
Man Utd are arguably the strongest performers in contests featuring them against any of the top 4. With wins against Chelsea at home, Liverpool away and a near-win against Arsenal at The Emirates as well as 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal at home, we always get ourselves up for the big ones. So, I am hoping this one will be no different.
Liverpool are on a great run with Torres firing on all cylinders and Gerrard once again manning the middle of midfield and they come to Old Trafford with 7 continuous wins in all competitions. But, so are United. With Ronaldo’s fiery goalscoring streak helping United eek out wins even when the performance is not upto expected levels and with important players returning from injuries, things are looking all too good for us.
Man Utd have the added incentive of putting pressure on Chelsea and Arsenal (who face later today) by going 6 points ahead of closest competitor Arsenal by beating Liverpool. I am hoping United win today because, as the stats prove, when United face any of the top 4 and both teams play to their best, United will always come out on top. The only problem United will have is if Ferdinand does not play (which looks highly likely), in which case we would have lost someone who could have handled the mobility of Torres with ease. Even then, Vidic and Brown/Pique would be a nice central defensive partnership capable of handling Torres. If all goes well, I think United will go 6 points ahead for a short period of time, at least.
Chelsea vs Arsenal
Arguably the more important of the two matches being played today. Featuring two of the three title contenders, this match could have a bigger say on where the BPL title ends up. A draw would be ideal for Man Utd fans like me, of course, as that would put both teams further behind us. With great pressure on both teams to not let United out of their sights, this is one mouthwatering fixture.
Arsenal are on a very poor run by their standards and that run is the reason they see themselves 3 points behind United. With 4 continuous draws after the match in which Eduardo got injured, the incentive is bigger for Arsenal to prove that they are no pushovers when it comes to the big games during the business end of the season.
They have thier task cut out for them, however. Chelsea have not lost a game at Stamford Bridge for over 4 years. With 57 wins and 20 draws in 77 matches, Chelsea are the strongest of the top 4 when it comes to home fixtures. But, Chelsea themselves come into this fixture on the back of a 4-4 draw with Spurs, a match they would have expected to come out on top. Spurs got their tactics right in that match, keeping two up front in Keane and Bent and withdrawing Berbatov to a free role behind them. That decision made the Chelsea backline go haywire and, for one time, we saw Chelsea’s defense not knowing what to do. Knowing Arsene Wenger, he would’ve noted the problems Chelsea faced in that match and would have something similar lined up. Arsenal, however, have only one main fit striker in Adebayor and he is going to have a difficult time beating Terry’s Chelsea defence.
Taking all that into consideration, Chelsea have the upper hand in this fixture mostly because of their home advantage. Add to that, Arsenal also don’t have anybody to take the physical battle to Chelsea, it does look grim for the Gunners in this fixture. I am still hoping for a draw to give United some more breathing space at the top of the table.
Whatever happens in those two fixtures, there is no denying the impact it will have on the title race. This is arguably one of the best title run-ins in years and the best I have experienced since I started watching football. It can only get better as we near the finish line and with United getting their act together at just the right time, I am hoping this season proves to be just as successful as the pervious for the Red Devils.