Friday, April 16, 2010

A decisive weekend by all accounts.

                     Tottenham Hotspurs will host their bitter local rivals Chelsea in a London Derby while Manchester City will host their arch rivals Manchester United in a Manchester Derby.
The El Clasico, dubbed the biggest match in club football, dominated the headlines last weekend as Barcelona showed Real Madrid why spending hundreds of millions on a few superstars will get a team nowhere.
This week another rich club takes on its biggest rivals. It’s the Manchester derby and sparks are sure to fly, especially after the controversial outcome of the reverse encounter at Old Trafford earlier in the season, when Michael Owen ended the deadlock almost seven minutes into injury time . . . or, as it is otherwise called, “Fergie time”, that is, the number of minutes referees are obliged to add for no reason to placate the veteran manager.

Unlike the encounter in Spain, however, this is no title-decider. That took place a couple of weeks back when Chelsea beat Manchester United (MU) at Old Trafford. That match ended the Premiership title race in all probability.
Meanwhile, the champions-elect will be having their derby as well. There may be many out there who think the title has not been decided, mostly MU fans and Arsene Wenger, but this weekend’s results should have a big say.
Realistically, this weekend appears to be MU’s last chance to breathe fresh life into their flagging challenge and having to beat an in-form and high-scoring Manchester City at that. This match will also conclude about three hours before Carlo Ancelotti’s men take on Tottenham Hotspur.
By beating Arsenal in midweek, Spurs have already given an indication that their FA Cup exertions and disappointment last weekend did not have too dramatic an effect.
It was also a reverse after two consecutive losses for Spurs, with their 3-1 league loss at Sunderland pre-empting their FA Cup exit.
The inclusion of Ledley King in defence was crucial to their win over the Gunners. The question is will he be able to play two games in a week. Without their captain, Spurs will be exposed at the back.
On another note, it might be good for Fabio Capello to consider King for the World Cup in June. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand will be England’s first-choice pairing, so what England need is a player who, after a spell of inactivity, is capable of stepping into the breach at short notice and filling in. It’s precisely because King plays so infrequently for Spurs that he could be such an asset to England’s squad this summer.
Though to be honest, Spurs are not that great even with King, considering the number of times that their goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes had to make miraculous saves to thwart Arsenal on Wednesday.
I suppose many of us had doubts over the Lillywhite’s credentials to claim fourth spot because of their tough run at the tail-end of the season, taking in Arsenal, Chelsea, MU and, finally, their biggest challenger for the Champions League spot, Manchester City.
With Arsenal despatched, attention turns to Chelsea, whose record at the Lane has turned around in recent times. Since a 16-year winless run ended in 2006, Spurs have taken points from Chelsea in the last two seasons — a win last year following that epic 4-4 draw in 2008.
If Spurs are going to reach the Champions League, they will have to do it the hard way. And if the evidence of Wednesday night is anything to go by, they might well be okay — but their capacity for producing an excellent performance is only equalled by their ability to make a mess of things.
Going into the match, Chelsea do not have any pressure as they are pretty comfortable at the top. However, as Bolton showed in mid-week, the Blues can be given a run for the money. Just pack the midfield and do not give them space to move the ball freely and Chelsea will be limited.
It will also help if the opposition is able to ensure that the match officials are also given proper eye tests before a match starts. Seriously, are Chelsea the new MU, being given so many unfair breaks in matches? MU were once the richest club in the EPL and had things their way. Now, it seems Chelsea can afford to out-pay MU to the “charities” that the referees association supports.
Anyhow, Chelsea are odds-on almost everywhere to win tonight despite the fact they have not won at White Hart Lane in the league since the 2005/2006 season, when they were last crowned champions.
MU, on the other hand, are dealing with opponents who have multiple motivations. City have their own Champions League aspirations to think about, but even if they were languishing in mid-table with absolutely nothing to play for, they would take no greater pleasure than ensuring there was no fourth title in a row for MU. Similar to how Spurs felt after ending Arsenal’s title hopes this season.
Alex Ferguson has confirmed that Wayne Rooney could return to action tonight. England’s biggest hope since David Beckham has been struggling with the ankle problem he further aggravated in the second leg of the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich but has returned to training this week.
MU have endured a disappointing fortnight on two fronts but will hope to put that right at the Eastlands, not only to maintain the pressure on Chelsea at the top of the table but also to send a timely reminder of who is the bigger team in Manchester.
Roberto Mancini’s City have struck a rich vein of form coming to the end of the season, having found the net 14 times in their last three games against Birmingham, Burnley and Wigan.
If you needed reminding, this is the fourth Manchester derby of the season, following September’s 4-3 epic MU win and a thrilling two-leg encounter in the Carling Cup semi-final.
The man to watch for this tie will be once-MU fan favourite Carlos Tevez, who has excelled in the Blue half of Manchester. The Argentine international has enjoyed a prolific first season at his new club, scoring 28 goals in all competitions, including three against his former club in those two Carling Cup matches.
Anyone willing to gamble on him not finding the back of the net tonight? I didn’t think so.
A fit Rio Ferdinand would have trouble keeping Tevez at bay, what more one that is slightly crocked. So, if Ferdinand does play, he and Nemanja Vidic will surely have a torrid time at the back.
City have every reason to win this and it wouldn’t be wrong to say they have the self-belief to achieve it, let alone form. For the first time in decades, it would actually be an embarrassing shame if they do not send MU packing with nothing but battered pride.
And when they do, it will be practically game-set-match on both the title and fourth-place battlefronts.

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