“I think either Arsenal or ourselves will win it”, said Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson at the end of February.
At that time, Chelsea were fifteen points off the top, leading many to believe that the Premier League title race was between Arsenal and Manchester United, with United the clear favourites.
As is always the case in football, however, it’s not quite that simple. To say, with over three months of the season remaining, that a side five wins away from the top is out of the title race is hasty to say the least.
Ferguson made those comments shortly before his United side thumped Wigan 4-0. Just two weeks before, the Red Devils lost to Wolves away from home, which was their first loss of the season. Wins against Manchester City and Wigan suggested that normality had returned, with United winning games without actually performing particularly well.
Defeats away to Chelsea and arch-rivals Liverpool mean that United are three points above second-placed Arsenal, who have a game-in-hand. The Gunners meet United this weekend in the FA Cup and also face their old nemesis at The Emirates Stadium on the 1st of May.
While United have faltered of late, Chelsea have been picking up results, quietly going about their business, with manager Carlo Ancelotti dismissing his own side’s title credentials whenever questioned, so that attention is not drawn to his club.
Between the 14th November and 27th December, Chelsea didn’t win a Premier League game, succumbing to defeats against Sunderland, Birmingham and Arsenal.
In the last seven games, though, they have lost just once (against Liverpool) while the victory against United at the start of March, and the second half performance in particular, has led some to believe that The Blues could still be crowned champions for the fourth time.
There may not have been many stand-out performances for Chelsea recently, but they’re getting points on the board, fighting and battling for results every step of the way. The win against United was clearly important but emphatic victories over Blackpool, Sunderland, Bolton and Blackburn mean that Chelsea currently sit fourth in the table, nine points behind United, with ten games left to play (they, like Arsenal, have a game-in-hand over United and Manchester City).
Ten games left to play means a possible thirty points can be won. They play City next in the Premier League while Tottenham and United face Ancelotti’s side within the last four games of the season.
But, on the whole, their run-in will please Ancelotti. They face Wigan, Birmingham and West Ham before May, all of whom are struggling for form. Ancelotti will also expect to gain three points over West Brom, Newcastle and, on the last day of the season, Everton.
United have a startlingly similar run-in, with Bolton, Newcastle, Everton and West Ham all to play, as well as Arsenal and, six days later, Chelsea. Their final game of the season sees Blackburn, who will surely be scrapping for their lives by that point, play host to the current league leaders, whereas Everton will have very little to play for other than pride.
Arsenal have West Brom, Liverpool, Tottenham and Aston Villa to play before that crunch match against United, which will surely be seen by Chelsea as an opportunity to make up yet more ground.
Just as the outcome of the relegation battle is impossible to predict this season, the title race seems to be wide open and certainly isn’t a two-horse race. Ferguson was wrong to rule out Chelsea, although this could have been purely mind games. The Manchester United manager, though, could regret such public statements, as Chelsea look to claim the Premier League title for the second season in a row.
There are just over three months left to go in the Premier League – that’s plenty of time for Chelsea to catch up.
This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.