As we approach the time of squeaky bums and bitten nails, it’s a bumper week
The location of the Premier League title
And so, after Manchester United made things exciting for the armchair fan, it comes down to this game. Well not exactly just this, but more of that in a minute.
Sky could not have written the script better. United’s defeat at the Emirates means that the description of Super Sunday may, for once, be just.
Quite frankly it is win or bust for Chelsea, and they have to gain three points at a ground where United have squandered just two league points all season. But Chelsea will be confident. They were the last team to win at OT in the league, and are on a hugely impressive run. Their respective mindsets after last week’s games were crucial: United were despondent, whilst John Terry focused on the camera and declared “Chelsea never give up”.
The caveat to all this is that even if Chelsea do win at Old Trafford, it may not be enough. A victory would put them ahead on goal difference, but Manchester United have the luxury of a home game against Blackpool on the final day. Would you really bet against them scoring four or five if they needed to?
The time for talking is over, and the time for underperformance has long passed. West Ham go into the first of their last three games knowing that they may need six points from nine to survive.
Satruday’s game is epic, especially accounting for the fact that they are the only side in the bottom seven playing at home on Saturday (with Wolves to follow on Sunday).
And yet despite losing their last five games, there are reasons to be hopeful. On Saturday the Hammers face a Blackburn side that they could well beat. Rovers have taken one solitary point from their last 21 available away from home, and on paper West Ham have the better side.
But when your owners haven’t travelled to watch you play because they assumed you would lose, confidence is lost. If West Ham don’t win this weekend, their Premier League stay of execution may be over.
For West Ham, read Wolves. A defence that looks shaky at best (see Michael Mancienne’s woeful header last weekend) and a strikeforce having to fire without its most effective weapon, the clock looks to be ticking on Wolves Premier League life.
And again here, optimism is possible. Wolves are just a point from safety, and in their remaining fixtures face West Brom and Blackburn at home, and a hideously out-of-form Sunderland away.
Sunday’s lunchtime kick off is, therefore, much more than a Black Country derby.
The relegation battle
It’s amazing how the football calendar works. Between now and the end of the season, games include:
West Ham v Blackburn
Wolves v Blackburn
Sunderland v Wolves
West Ham v Sunderland
Wigan v West Ham
It’s going to be an interesting ride.
On February 20th, Tottenham were fourth in the league. If they won their game in hand on Manchester City, they would move up to third. Six points off second. Ten points off top.
On May 5th, Tottenham are sixth in the league. If they won their game in hand on Liverpool, they would move up to fifth. Seven points off fourth. Fifteen points off second.
They are a team on the slide. In February I wrote a piece about how Spurs had to use the January transfer window to push on, and the fact they left things until so late, relying on another Van der Vaart, showed extreme naivety. This has been proved right.
In the second half of the season Spurs have fallen to earth with a bump. They are currently on a run of one win in eleven games in all competitions. More worrying still, this season they have dropped 15 points against teams in the bottom four. Spurs’ aggregate score against these teams is 7-9. Manchester United’s (over the exact seven games) is 19-7.
Spurs’ European hopes will rest on their trip to Anfield (I am assuming that the Champions League is lost). This weekend’s game against Blackpool is a must win, but looking at the previous statistics, it is in no way a given.
For a manager who seemingly plays without a Plan B, the times they are a troubling when Plan A is no longer working.
Lose again this weekend, and Grant will be on the way to consecutive relegations from the Premier League. An unenviable and unwanted statistic.
Too much was made, in my eyes, of Mourinho’s no show at the Nou Camp. UEFA rules stipulate that he was unable to talk to the team at any point, and so he remained absent.
But Mourinho is a man under pressure. His ‘special one’ status is not accustomed to losing two consecutive home games, but that is what has happened.
Real Madrid managers are not traditionally treated with a great deal of patience, and although Mourinho is certainly a special case, he is not omnipotent, and definitely not untouchable.
To make things harder, an away game at Sevilla is by no means a formality. What could have been a dead rubber is suddenly filed under Must Not Lose.
Aaron Ramsey and Ryan Shawcross
Back to the Britannia, all eyes will be on all tackles. A week after passing a test of quality, Ramsey may be about to face an examination of endurance.