Wednesday night’s Premier League results could not have gone better for the neutral. They have ensured that with nine games to go, nothing is close to being decided yet… at all key areas in the table.
Often at this stage of the season, somebody has raced ahead in the title race, someone is cut 10 points adrift at the bottom or the top four have opened up an insurmountable gap between themselves and the rest of the chasing pack in the battle for a Champions League place.
Not this season though. There is still everything to play for at all ends of the table.
Race for the title
Manchester City’s 2-1 victory over Chelsea put them just one point behind fierce rivals United and the title race back on track.
United had played twice and won twice since City’s last game, a shock 1-0 defeat to Swansea, and had gone four points ahead of their local rivals.
United’s two victories had many pundits and ex pros questioning whether City had the minerals to complete the job and end up winning the title after United had gone from two points behind to four points ahead.
This did seem a little strange and over the top seeing as the fixture computer didn’t give City any right of reply as United were putting their points in the bag.
City passed a big test
However, having gone four points behind, there was no doubt that there was huge pressure on the sky blues and a match against a vastly improved Chelsea side was a huge test.
But if you want to win the league you have to face these sort of tests and City showed their credentials with a well deserved 2-1 victory.
The fact that Rio Ferdinand can’t stop talking about them and insisting that the pressure is on City kind of proves the opposite point to the one he was trying to make.
City have just come through an extremely tough game against Chelsea and the first thing Ferdinand says is that the pressure is on City. It seems he is protesting too much. You don’t hear City players obsessing about United.
Surely the pressure is on United at this moment in time. They are in poll position after all and imagine being a United player the year City win the league! No wonder Rio is working overtime with his subpar mind games!
Champions League places
So the title race is back on and so is the race for the last two Champions League places.
Liverpool are out of that race now after declaring themselves unfit for Champions League purpose with Wednesday’s 3-2 surrender to relegation haunted QPR.
Dalgish’s men led 2-0 with 13 minutes left, but having dominated the game they allowed the Rs a way back in, and then an equaliser and an injury time winner to leave Liverpool 12 points behind 4th place.
Tottenham stop the rot
Tottenham, who started the evening in third place, came into their match at home to Stoke on the back of three straight defeats.
In that short space of time they have gone from being an outside bet to win the title to looking over their shoulders with the realisation that they might not make the Champions League places.
It was vital for them to stop the rot but they were finding it difficult to get through a resilient Stoke defence. Then when Stoke went 1-0 up with 15 minutes to go, it seemed that Spurs were heading for a devastating fourth straight defeat.
Thankfully for them, Rafael Van der Vart headed an injury time equaliser to earn a point, and they will be hoping that that point will mark the end of their poor run. Although they do have a huge game against Chelsea at the weekend.
Arsenal leapfrog their rivals
Tottenham’s draw meant that their North London rivals, Arsenal, had an opportunity to leapfrog them into third place with a win against Everton.
An away match at Goodison Park is never easy but Arsenal managed to come away with a 1-0 win.
Pundits were quick to point out that despite being good value for their win, Arsenal were lucky to come away with three points as Everton had a perfectly good goal disallowed for offside. They weren’t quite as quick to point out that they were due a bit of good luck following their horrendous start to the season.
The fact is that no matter how much it upsets the media, Arsenal have climbed to third in the table on merit and they may have to admit that Arsène Wenger does know what he is doing after all.
That said, although they are third, Arsenal are possibly the most mentally fragile of the three teams vying for the two Champions League places.
They have had a history of running out of steam when the going has got tough in recent years, so its just as well they have a six point head start on Chelsea and one point on Tottenham at this stage of the season.
Chelsea in good form
Chelsea had been on a good run of form since the sacking of AVB, until the Man City game that is. But there is no shame in losing to a team that have won every one of their home games in the league this season, especially when you push them as close as Chelsea did.
Now that Tottenham have put an end to their run of defeats, they will hope to look forward to a change in fortunes for themselves.
Newcastle have surprised everybody this term, particularly after losing key players such as Kevin Nolan and Joey Barton at the start of the season. They remain an outside bet for the final Champions League spot. But as they are already seven points behind and have the least experienced squad it will probably just elude them.
It is perfectly poised with at least one of the London giants sure to miss out on Europe’s elite competition next season.
Battle for survival
At the bottom of the table, QPR’s victory over Liverpool gave them a valuable and unexpected three points.
The relegation battle is going to see three of five from Blackburn, QPR, Bolton, Wigan and Wolves go down. After recent wins for Blackburn and QPR it seems that they are the most likely to survive. But as things change so quickly in the world of football, who knows what will happen?
Last season we all thought Wigan were doomed but they somehow managed to survive. Roberto Martinez’s men are in the relegation zone again but are only three points from safety.
Wolves could live to regret sacking manager Mick McCarthy as they are currently bottom of the table. However it is so tight that a run of a few good results for any team could see them rocket to safety as Sunderland did earlier in the season and Blackburn seem to be doing now.
Six pointer between Blackburn and Bolton
Bolton are two points behind QPR but have a game in hand after their midweek match against Aston Villa was postponed following Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest. Thankfully Muamba is showing signs of recovery and Bolton fans will be hoping their team can get back to normality after such a traumatic week and put some points on the board, starting with a six-pointer against Blackburn at the weekend.
Blackburn have been on a good run of form that has seen them pick up 10 points from their last five games. It is a run that has seen them move five points clear of the relegation zone. However defeat at Bolton tomorrow would see them back in real trouble once again.
Let the good times roll
So at all ends of the table there is still everything to play for and long may that continue. Hopefully we will see more important, must-win games between now and May than ever before at this stage of the season.