With second-placed Chelsea cutting the gap on league leaders Manchester United to just three points ahead of their trip to Old Trafford, Carlo Ancelotti takes his side north this Sunday in what will be a crucial match in the title race and pivotal in his own future as Chelsea manager. After exiting the Champions League at the hands of United at Old Trafford just three weeks ago, the Blues return with revenge in mind and the chance of retaining their Premier League still amazingly alive.
Over the past two months the Blues have enjoyed their best domestic run of the season, ironically starting with their 2-1 victory over United at Stamford Bridge on March 1. Going into the game 15 points behind Sir Alex’s Ferguson’s men and with a goal difference 12 worse than United’s, they trailed one-nil at half-time before a crucial second half comeback instilled hope into their faltering title hopes. Since beating United, Ancelotti’s side have not looked back, taking 22 points from an available 24, their only failure being away to Stoke in a 1-1 draw, to banish the memories of the barren mid-season run which saw them facing the prospect of missing out on next seasons’ Champions League altogether.
Though fortune favoured Chelsea in Saturday’s weekend win over Tottenham with controversy tainting another vital three points against their London rivals, and also in the eyes of Sir Alex Ferguson’s in the penalty decision that provided the winner against United in March, the Blues have simply gone about their own business and shown an increased heart to retain their Premier League crown which appeared to be missing during their winter slump.
Despite the high profile arrival of Fernando Torres from Liverpool and his subsequent uncertainty in front of goal under the pressure of a £50m transfer fee, and facing such a large gap to cut down after suffering their worst run in 15 years, Chelsea’s squad appears united in their charge to retain their Premier League crown, having reinstalled Didier Drogba to the starting line-up in favour of the misfiring Spaniard. Although he may have only scored twice in 12 games since Torres’ January move, Drogba seems to have resumed his status as a figure of inspiration in leading the Blues fight into the title race, appearing more than anyone to desire glory as he helped haul United back in what could be his final games for the club with a decision on his future likely to be made this summer.
In order to return victorious, the Blues will need to end the Red Devils unbeaten home League record at Old Trafford, truly the sole reason they still top the Premier League having taken an incredible 49 points from 51 in front of their own fans this season, winning their last 13 consecutive home games. If Chelsea were to overcome United to take their place at the Premier League summit it would leave the sides’ level on points with two games remaining, potentially meaning the title could be decided on goal difference for the first time since the 1988-89 season. It could lead to an assault on goal by both sides in their final two games and one of the most memorable and explosive finales to a season in recent years.