TITLE RACE ENTERS HOME STRETCH
By Jide Alaka
March 26, 2010 12:57AM
Who can bet against United? Defending champions Manchester United, without injured Wayne Rooney, travel to the Reebok Stadium with a win in sight none the less. There is no point risking Rooney with a trip to Munich to face Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Normally, when United get into first place in either February or March, it stays that way till the last day of the season. There is a yawning gap in quality between these two sides as, while Wayne Rooney is highest scorer for United with 26 goals, Ivan Klasnic is the leading goal scorer for Owen Coyle's side with 6 goals. United have no other injury worry apart from John O'Shea who is out for the rest of the season. United should keep their position after the weekend.
Chelsea need to consolidate
Chelsea got a floundering season back on track with the 5-0 mauling of almost-relegated Portsmouth on Wednesday, but doubts still linger. Carlo Ancelotti said as much after the match: “We needed to win and I hope the bad moment is finished,” the Italian added. “We have to wait until Saturday because this is a very important test for us.
Well the Blues face a side that is never an easy foe in Aston Villa. No Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic mean that Ashley Young can do havoc from both flanks when he confronts either Yuri Zhirkov – who has not looked a 100% fit or the fickle Paulo Ferreira.
Then there is the hulking figure of John Carew and John Terry and Alex know that they have to be up for the game. In the reverse fixture, the Villains exploited Chelsea's aerial weakness to come back from a Didier Drogba early goal. The frailty is still there as the Blues have conceded 18 headed goals this term out of 28 conceded in the league. Aston Villa have drawn their last two matches and need the points in the pursuit of fourth place and a Champions League slot for next season. Villa may be without Emile Heskey and Richard Dunne who suffered injuries and will undergo scans ahead the game.
Chelsea travel to Old Trafford on April 3 and they need to win their remaining seven league games to claim a first championship since 2006. “If we win every game between now and the end of the season, we will be champions,” Ancelotti concluded.
Arsenal still have a chance
Third placed Arsenal travel to face Birmingham and have to become the first side to beat Alex McLeish's team to stay in the race for the league diadem. After two consecutive losses, the first time in four months, Birmingham have to bounce back quickly.
Cameron Jerome is in a rich vein of form scoring four goals in his last three matches but the Gunners need the win to continue to hope for the trophy. Led by captain and highest goal scorer with 15 goals, Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal will be missing Thomas Vermaleen, whose red card against West Ham and subsequent protest was thrown out by the FA. Expect a very tough match with Barcelona in view for the Gunners next at the Emirates.
Other matches Tottenham continue their Champions League pursuit with a match against basement side, Portsmouth and it should be a banker for Harry Redknapps' side. Jermain Defoe is still out and Roman Pavlyuchenko should continue. Two sides in good form; Everton and Wolves will tango at the Moulineux with David Moyes seeking at least a Europa Cup slot after a disastrous opening to the season.
Everton won away at Manchester City 2-0 and Wolves destroyed West Ham at Upton Park – something will have to give.