When Sir Alex Ferguson has no complaint with the referee you know that Manchester United hold some kind of advantage. Indeed, although a draw against the Aston Villa doesn’t fulfil the maximum output that the team in red can give, other results in midweek will have made Mr Ferguson a satisfied man on Thursday morning.
Chelsea’s vulnerability away from home has been well documented this season. They look shaky on set-pieces, find it difficult to finish teams off, and make erroneous decisions that cost points. Ironically, it was only after the Africa Cup of Nations that Chelsea had started to slip however, and whilst this slump is miniscule in comparison to others, for the Blues it is the difference between being Premier League Champions or runners-up. Needless to say which one is the target. So what in recent weeks has changed for the Londoners that see them perched so precariously at the top, in danger of being blown away? John Terry’s private life has caused controversy within the media for the last two weeks and yet to blame the results at Hull and Everton solely on the big man’s shoulders is to make a scapegoat out of the captain. Yet his performance against Everton at Goodison Park leaves a lot to be desired. Louis Saha lost Terry too easily for the first goal and pressured him acutely to force another error for his second of the game, resulting in Everton’s first victory over Chelsea under David Moyes – a healthy duck to break.
It is therefore unsurprising that Terry, blinded by the media spotlight, has sought time off for this weekend. Carlo Ancelotti is nothing if not pragmatic, and understands that domestic problems can affect a player’s game if left unresolved. This then is probably why Terry headed off to Dubai on Thursday to see wife Toni. After allegations involving a former teammate’s ex-partner came the fore recently, which have since resulted in Terry losing his England captaincy, the Chelsea skipper has a lot on his mind. Most Blues fans will be praying that things are resolved quickly for their charismatic leader, with hopes that his return will bolster the now faltering club position, and re-cement their credentials as the lead contender for champions of the Premier League.
The match on Saturday for Chelsea takes on new importance with their captain’s absence. The FA Cup is a gruelling competition and can destroy a team that enters unprepared, giant or otherwise. Therefore when the Blues meet Cardiff at Stamford Bridge, they will be hoping that their excellent home record will be enough to see them through the fifth round, and onwards to Cup glory. Unfortunately for the Londoners, they will also be without the invaluable services of Ashley Cole after he limped off against Everton after a challenge with Landon Donavan. With two of their regulars of the back-four missing, it will be interesting to see how it performs against a Welsh side that have been hot and cold this season, brilliant one week and woeful the next.
Undoubtedly Manchester United are starting to look better and better. Wayne Rooney has been on top form recently and his goal contribution makes one strain to remember the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Meanwhile, Arsenal are the dark horses for this tile, and they are sneaking in and around the top spot as if they know it. It is important to state that the Gunners don’t have to play another top four team this season, whereas the other contenders have difficult days ahead of them. And whilst their reputed downfall has been the fixtures against these so named ‘giants’, Arsenal have done very well against the middle teams that comprise the league, with their talent and youth being too much to handle for most sides below them. Therefore, the gap of six points that separates first from third is probably a lot weaker than it appears. Arsene Wenger claimed that Arsenal were still very much in the title race after defeat to Chelsea last week, and victory over Liverpool on Wednesday just goes to reaffirm their prospective finish were they to continue the form they show against the bread and butter teams in the Premier league until the end of the season.