Kiss of life for the title race

by William Abbs

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The Premier League title race was given the kiss of life on Saturday, albeit a lingering kiss that began in the early afternoon and carried on until the evening as the action in Manchester and north London unfolded. First, Paul Scholes rose unchallenged in the Manchester City penalty area to hand a last-minute derby victory to their neighbours United in the day’s lunchtime kick-off. In the evening game, Spurs followed up their own derby success over Arsenal with another 2-1 home victory, this time against league-leaders Chelsea. With both sides having three games left to play, Chelsea now lead United by just one point at the top of the table. Chelsea’s defeat could also have allowed Arsenal to rejoin the title race, but the Gunners conceded three goals in the final ten minutes of their match at Wigan on Sunday, losing 3-2 in the process, and so they remain six points off the lead and seemingly out of the hunt.

Before Saturday’s particular turn of events, the title race seemed to be beyond resuscitation. After squandering what chances they carved out against Blackburn Rovers last Sunday during a goalless draw at Ewood Park, Manchester United watched Chelsea defeat Bolton by a stoic one-goal margin at Stamford Bridge last Tuesday to go four points clear. Saturday’s Manchester derby seemed to be ending in United’s second stalemate in as many weekends, with Roberto Mancini’s substitutions of Adam Johnson for Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Adebayor for Shaun Wright-Phillips indicating that the City manager was quite content with a point. But with seconds left in injury time, Patrice Evra delivered his final cross of the afternoon into the City penalty area and Scholes, having been pushed further forward for the final part of the game, headed past Shay Given.

Spurs’ sumptuous performance against Chelsea at White Hart Lane merited victory by a greater margin than the same 2-1 scoreline with which they saw off Arsenal last Wednesday night. Jermain Defoe converted a fifteenth-minute penalty after John Terry was adjudged by referee Phil Dowd to have handled in the penalty area. Chelsea had already survived two penalty shouts during Spurs’ early onslaught, as the tone of the game was set from the start. Gareth Bale doubled Spurs’ lead on forty-three minutes when he cut inside Paulo Ferreira and drove a wonderful strike past Petr Cech with his right foot.

Chelsea made two tactical substitutions at half-time – adding to the one enforced change they made in the first half when Michael Ballack replaced the injured John Obi Mikel – and they suffered a scare before the second half had even begun when Didier Drogba complained of a muscle strain. The Ivorian remained on the pitch to ensure that Chelsea restarted the game with eleven players, but they were down to ten men midway through the half when John Terry was sent off after two reckless challenges in the space of four minutes brought the embattled England defender two yellow cards. Jermain Defoe had already missed a glorious opportunity to extend Spurs’ lead to three, and the home side wasted further chances before Frank Lampard managed to pull a goal back in stoppage time.

While Gareth Bale’s heroics on Spurs’ left flank and the way in which Roman Pavlyuchenko plagued the centre of Chelsea’s defence mean that plaudits should be heaped on both players, Scholes’ performance on Saturday still managed to exceed that of the Welshman and the Russian. United’s captain, Gary Neville, said after the dramatic climax against City that Scholes had “passed them to death” and Sir Alex Ferguson added that the midfielder was, simply, “wonderful.” Scholes sits deeper than ever before in United’s midfield and yesterday it was the turn of Darren Fletcher and Darron Gibson to do the running around him. While they buzzed forward, it was left to the man that Zinedine Zidane described as “the greatest player of his generation” to break up City’s attacks and to act as United’s fulcrum when they regained possession, moving the ball forward or spreading it wide with unerring efficiency.

Be Sociable, Share!

Previous post:

Next post: