The Premier League saw another uncharacteristic twist this weekend as both Arsenal and Manchester United drew games that they were expected to win. Such games have become commonplace this season, with Chelsea and particularly Liverpool also frequently dropping points nobody expected. Can United take the initiative in the next month?
In recent times, the Premier League winners have finished the season with points in the high 80s. Arsenal, Chelsea and United have even managed to gain more than 90 in four of the last six seasons. It appears it won’t be the case this term.
As we settle into 2010 though, Sir Alex Ferguson must be aware that one of the top three teams is going to take the initiative and string a series of wins together. Will it be United?
Arsenal faces a challenging run of games in the next month, which will see Arsène Wenger’s team play Aston Villa, United, Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. If the Londoners come out of that run with nine points or more, the Frenchman will fancy his side’s chances in the title race. Whether Arsenal has the strength in depth to do so without Robin van Persie, Emmanuel Eboué and Alexandre Song over the next few weeks is questionable.
Meanwhile, Chelsea’s run is a touch easier, with home games against Birmingham City and Sunderland followed by away ties with Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers. And while Chelsea must still contend with Arsenal, the fixture will be played at Stamford Bridge. Carlo Ancelotti will certainly look to gain an advantage in the Premier League race given that relatively easy run. But as is been the way this season, time and again the so called ‘lesser teams’ look hard to beat.
United has a mixed run in the next month, with manageable home games at Burnley, Hull City and Portsmouth bracketing a massive game at the Emirates and ties in both the Carling Cup and Champions League.
With the cup ties in mind, it is likely that Fergie will rest key players in the team’s home Premier League matches, given the opponents. But with points already dropped against the lesser lights, it is absolutely essential that Ferguson’s side take maximum points from home ties against teams which – as Burnley showed in August – are no push-overs.
The next four games could be absolutely key come the end of the season and there is certainly reason for United fans to be optimistic. Although the team is far from its imperious best, a good performance at the Emirates and an improved success rate against the ‘smaller’ Premier League teams this month could see Ferguson’s side take a decisive advantage.
The time for United to hit top form is now, when building momentum is so important. And the timely return of players such as Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves in the next month could carry the side through to May and a record fourth consecutive Premier League trophy.
Of course, the celebrations will have to be cut short to prepare for the third consecutive Champions League final, played just days later. We can but live in hope…