With a six-point advantage at the top of the Premier League table with only five matches remaining, it would appear that it’s only a matter of time before Manchester United are crowned champions.
However, with games left against both title rivals, Arsenal and Chelsea, and the Champions League still sharing part of our focus, there are who seem to be a little less assured that will secure historic #19 in the next few weeks.
Earlier in the season, Sir Alex Ferguson said that the target total for the title was 84 points, and with United currently on 70 after 33 matches, five wins in five games would see us surpass that target by a point. Last year, that amount wasn’t quite enough to claim the title, but were we able to reach that mark this season would mean a rather comfortable title triumph. But with Arsenal and Chelsea only able to max out at 79 points, managing 10 points from here on would be enough to get the job done, even if one of those two happens to beat us and win their other four as well.
10 points the rest of the way would make for the lowest title-winning total since the 2000/01 season, when United’s 80-point haul bested Arsenal by 10 points. With such overall averageness in mind, there have been more than a few questions about whether or not United truly ‘deserve’ to win the title, given that the results and the performances haven’t exactly been vintage United.
Will United be able to close the deal over the next month, and if the title is wrapped up, whether it be at Old Trafford, the Emirates, or Ewood Park, will we be deserving champions?
With Arsenal seemingly have forgotten how to do anything but draw, draw, draw, which, for all the plaudits they receive as artistes, is not a skill to be desired in this avenue, they’ve fallen behind Chelsea as the most likely challenger to United’s title ambitions.
However, they’re still mathematically in it, and if they can win tomorrow at Bolton, they’ll have the opportunity to really move themselves back into the thick of the race come the next weekend, when United visit north London.
However, their form nor their schedule is particularly confidence-inspiring, and neither is their perceived lack of intestinal fortitude. So, there’s a distinct possibility their title charge could be all but ended by our visit every bit as much as it could bolstered by it.
Here’s how their stretch run breaks down:
4/24: at Bolton – Bolton have the better home records in the Premier League (9-5-2), and they come into Sunday’s match with four home league wins on the trot.
5/1: vs. Manchester United – United have won the last four meetings in this rivalry and are unbeaten in the last seven.
5/8: at Stoke City – If Arsenal are still in the hunt after our visit, this could be quite the tricky tie. Stoke have played very well overall at home this season (8-4-4), and they should be looking to go into the FA Cup final on a high. So, even if their survival is assured by then, it’s tough to see Tony Pulis resting too many key players (or any), especially with there being eight days after their previous league match and six before their trip to Wembley.
5/15: vs. Aston Villa – Villa have shown an ability to pick up results at Arsenal in recent seasons, so this one can’t be written off as an automatic Arsenal win, even with Villa not quite playing at the same level as they have the previous few seasons.
5/22: at Fulham – Fulham are a solid 7-6-3 at home this season, including a 5-1-0 mark in their last six home matches. Along with a draw against Chelsea in that span, Fulham also have a home draw against United to their credit this season.
With the above stretch run and their form in mind, it’s understandable why many, including Chelsea’s Petr Cech (watch what you say, buddy), have written off Arsenal even before they’ve had a chance to face United.
That’s not even considering the markedly more favorable finish Chelsea have.
4/23: vs. West Ham – Even from a biased view, there’s no way I could bring myself to say that Chelsea won’t win this one. The only real question is ‘how much?’.
4/30: vs. Tottenham – You’d have to expect Spurs to bring their A game to Stamford Bridge, given that they’re trying to chase down and pass City for fourth, but this one should still be a Chelsea win.
5/8: vs. Manchester United – A real toss-up, this is, considering the timing of this one for United (after the visit to Arsenal and the two legs of the Champions League semi against Schalke) and the fact that Chelsea will be coming in with eight days’ rest after Tottenham’s visit.
5/15: vs. Newcastle – Newcastle won at Stamford Bridge in the third round of the Carling Cup earlier this season, but I don’t see them repeating the feat in this clash.
5/22: at Everton – Following their visit to Old Trafford, Everton have a favorable run-in, which could see them still in contention for sixth place and a possible Europa League spot (depending on a couple of other factors), and even if that’s not the case, they won’t be in any position to do Chelsea any favors if they go to Goodison Park with the title up for grabs on the season’s final day.
That’s certainly more favorable than what Arsenal have left, isn’t it? But how does it compare to what United have left?
4/23: vs. Everton – The Toffees likely won’t make it easy, but United should make it 16.5 home wins in 17 matches. United have won the last four league meetings at Old Trafford by a combined total of 9-1.
4/26 & 5/4: at/vs. Schalke – It’d be ideal to win this one to take some of the pressure out of the second leg, but history isn’t on United’s side when it comes to visits to Germany in the knockout stages of the Champions League. So, we might have some work to do at Old Trafford. Not that that’s a problem, because history is on our side at our fortress o’ dreams, but it would be nice to not have to overexert ourselves with the Arsenal and Chelsea matches in mind.
Schalke have played markedly better in Europe than domestically this season, and their play and form overall has been much better since Ralf Rangnick took over for Felix Magath in mid-March. I mean, hey, did you see what they did to Inter? We’re clear favorites here, but we can’t underestimate Schalke in the least.
5/1: at Arsenal – I’ll take a draw, how about you?
5/8: vs. Chelsea – Beating the same opponent three times over the span of a little over a month isn’t easy, so the mathematicians among us might have doubts here, but if we’ve done it twice and had every chance to do it a third time already, then who’s to say we can’t do it again, especially at home?
5/14: at Blackburn – Sure enough, we haven’t been world beaters away from home this season, but as of this writing, Blackburn haven’t won a league match since January (nine-match winless run), and their home opposition in that time has been Tottenham, Newcastle, Blackpool, and Birmingham.
5/22: vs. Blackpool – Let’s hope this is nothing more than a veritable 90-minute lap of honor and that Blackpool need a result a lot more than we do here. Perhaps it’ll be the first of many, many dozens of times we’ll see Charlie Adam at Old Trafford. Not speculatin’, just sayin’. Either way, it should be a win, even if we’re letting some of the youngsters get a run-out.
I’m not trying to be biased (right? right), but United are well-positioned to close the deal, and it could happen a lot sooner than a month from today.
And as for whether or not we deserve it? If we don’t, then I hope the same question is doubly asked about the others currently chasing us. If we win it, it’s because we earned it, not because it was handed to us, and that is the end of that.
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