With March Madness booming, the NBA and NHL playoffs going HAM and even some surprise starts in baseball going on I forgot about my new found love for Premier League soccer.
I know you all have as much interest in European football as you do in squash, but this weekend should spark your interest in the game more than normal.
This weekend Manchester United and Chelsea FC are battling essentially for the league championship. And if you’re a Chelsea follower like I am, this seems almost unreal.
Let’s backtrack for a minute; Chelsea started off 5-0 and none of the games were close. They beat down the weaker teams in the Premier League and had a ball doing it. Didier Drogba, Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka and others were putting on an offensive showcase and they looked unstoppable. Then injuries to Frank Lampard, John Terry and practically everyone else killed them.
And Man U. was there to capitalize.
Even with Wayne Rooney having a dreadful year on and off the field, the Red Devils were on fire. They were so hot that they didn’t lose their first game of the year until February 5th (the season started August 16th, foolish isn’t it?) against Wolverhampton. Man U. gained the top spot on the Premier League table in November and had little competition in being removed from the top spot, especially from Chelsea who was struggling mightily.
However, Carlo Ancelotti and others kept saying that they felt like they still had a shot at competing for the title even though they were 11 points back even in February with a tough stretch approaching including the Champions Quarterfinals.
Turns out they weren’t crazy.
They acquired Fernando Torres from Liverpool in January as a means to get younger up front. Even though he hasn’t paid immediate dividends the Blues have been a different team.
Chelsea hasn’t lost in the Premier League since a 1-0 to the Reds on February 6th and has seemed to regain the swagger that it lost after such a hot start. Torres finally found the back of the net against West Ham United and the offense has looked fantastic.
Man U. has sputtered since that loss to Chelsea. They got housed the next week at Liverpool, squeaked by Bolton and tied Newcastle two weeks ago and have watched their lead shrink to almost nothing. After last weeks 1-0 loss to Arsenal the lead is 3 points.
That brings us to this week, May 8th 2011, 11:45am American EST, Manchester United-Chelsea at Old Trafford. Hehehehehe.
This is like Boston-L.A. in the NBA finals, Montreal-Detroit for the Stanley Cup, Cowboys-Steelers for the Super Bowl, it’s the two best teams in their sport playing for their championship.
If Chelsea wins then it’s back-to-back titles and Ancelotti can basically tell everyone to get off of his sack for the Blues mid-season struggles. If Man U. wins then the Yankees of the EPL have another title to place on their shelves and make us hate them even more.
The good news for the Red Devils is that the match is in their backyard where they’re virtually unbeatable. Also they’ve beaten Chelsea twice in the last month during Champions league play home and away. In a sense then Man U. is in Chelsea’s head.
For Chelsea they need to get production out of Torres in this game. Torres has one goal during his time at Stamford Bridge and has been a bust thus far. Sure Drogba, Anelka and Solomon Kalou have seen a drop in their production as well but they have two league titles in the EPL. They’ve proven their worth in the league and to Chelsea during their time there. Torres has to do the same on Sunday and prove that he is worth the hefty price that Roman Abromovich paid to obtain him from Liverpool. In America we call that proving your worth and Torres has yet to do that.
For Man U. they need Wayne Rooney to get back to his golden boot type of play from last year. Sure Dmitri Berbatov has carried them throughout the year and leads the league in goals scored, however this is Rooney’s team.
He is the face of Man U., its most popular player and it’s most talented. After a disappointing World Cup and a down year in general, Rooney needs to have a big game if Man U. wants another title. If he does that then he can put the evils of this past year of a supposed affair and his poor play behind him, and I’m sure that he would love that.
If Man U. wins then the race for first will be essentially over with them 6 points up and ahead in goal differential. If Chelsea wins then there will be a tie atop the table but Chelsea will be ahead due to goal differential and in control of their destiny. A lot will be at stake this Sunday at Old Trafford. Two rivals fighting it out for the title of the EPL with 3 matches life.
Now this is why I started watching. This should be fun.