Club Focus – Manchester United – Chelsea become main title rivals as United’s fixture congestion intensifies

Two games later and it remains as you were at the top of the table with Manchester United maintaining a six-point advantage over their rivals. Except that it isn’t really as you were at all. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were unable to beat Newcastle United and Arsenal threw away yet another two-goal lead this season. In total the Gunners have dropped seven points from that position, a terrifying record and this time the slip up allowed fellow Londoners Chelsea to usurp their second place spot.

Games are running out for the chasing pack to catch Manchester United and both Arsenal and Chelsea will need to take some points off the league leaders if they are to be caught but Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech reckons that the Blues are now the main title rivals to United due to Arsenal dropping so many points in recent weeks. The giant shot-stopper noted how Carlo Ancelotti’s side have resumed normal service in recent weeks, saying: “Everything is close and it is important to score goals. We could end up with the same number of points, so goal difference will play a big part now.”

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Goal difference is increasingly possible as a decider if Chelsea and Arsenal do manage to keep up the pressure on the Red Devils by taking points off them. Despite the very well publicised travails of Wayne Rooney earlier in the season their attack is the reason that United find themselves at the top of the pile, notching a respectable 70 goals so far. With three more home games to come the players will be hoping to add to that total and after two goalless performances against Manchester City and Newcastle United, pride is at stake. As United enter a horribly difficult run against Everton, Schalke, Arsenal, Schalke and Chelsea, it is vital that the momentum that carried Ferguson’s side to the top is rediscovered. Regardless of whether Cech is correct in his claim that Chelsea are now the main challengers for the Premier League crown, the chasing pack are jockeying for position and it will be too much to expect another slip up to go unpunished.

Last season the title turned on Chelsea beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, partly thanks to their early Champions League exit at the hands of Inter Milan. This time around, Manchester United face the Blues at the end of a criminally hard run of fixtures, making the game even more hazardous as fatigue will be gripping all the players. Nevertheless, if there is one aspect of United this season that has been truly outstanding, it is their home form. Aside from one freak draw against West Brom in which Edwin van der Sar made an uncharacteristic error, Ferguson’s men have beaten every single opponent to travel to Old Trafford. This home advantage might just be the vital element that decides the title between Manchester United and Chelsea this year.

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