I would have settled for a point at the Emirates.
Alex Ferguson said that he wanted to secure the title in style by winning against Chelsea and Arsenal, but perhaps that was a tad naive.
If United had drawn BOTH games against Chelsea and Arsenal, they would be left having to win one and draw one in their final two matches, against relative minnows in Blackpool and Blackburn.
Chelsea would then have to win all their remaining fixtures (Newcastle and Everton) AND establish a superior goal difference to have any chance of retaining their title.
Those are odds that United fans would have gladly taken at the start of the season, but given United’s improving form, Ferguson obviously decided it was worth pushing for a stylish win at the Emirates.
Even if United only had ONE draw, against Arsenal, they could still win the title by just beating Blackpool and Blackburn. Not anymore. They must now beat Blackpool and Blackburn, AND avoid defeat to Chelsea – which I think is unlikely.
So the way I see it, Fergie has gambled away a highly promising points situation by betting on United to beat Arsenal, without taking into account the very real possibility of a resurgent Chelsea beating United at home.
Taste for adventure
Back when United were still cautious about their stuttering performances this season, Ferguson played a destructive line-up featuring SEVEN defenders against Arsenal in the FA Cup, and a strong five-man midfield for the reverse league fixture – and both games were played at home.
But over the weekend, Fergie played a far more adventurous line-up, bringing back Nani and Anderson in midfield, and partnering Rooney and Valencia up front.
So why would Fergie suddenly decide to try and outplay Arsenal at their own game, on their own turf?
I’m guessing given Arsenal’s unconvincing form, Fergie sensed blood, that they were there for the taking, and that a grand victory was in store, one that would have almost certainly sealed that long-awaited 19th League title.
As it turns out, he was wrong. Arsenal deserved their victory, and they outplayed United for much of the game.
The current permutations
Now Fergie can only afford one draw out of the next three games, starting with a home fixture against Chelsea, who have been in terrific form. It is certainly not beyond them to get all three points at Old Trafford.
If United lose, Chelsea will be back on equal points with them and with a higher goal difference (they are currently tied with Chelsea). United will then have to outscore Chelsea in their last two games.
And given that apart from their 2-1 win over Tottenham last weekend, Chelsea have scored THREE goals in each of their last three games – that’s not a good sign for United.
Also, Chelsea are currently on a TEN game unbeaten run where they’ve only drawn twice. I predicted that Chelsea would win their last seven fixtures, with the only doubt being the United game, and I think the odds are in their favour to achieve that now – even winning against United.
Fergie will now have to decide again on whether to 1) gamble on getting the win that will all but settle the title race by attacking Chelsea, or 2) play for a point that will maintain their highly promising position, which would be having to win against Blackburn and Blackpool.
If I was the manager, I would play for the draw, and bank on winning the remaining two fixtures. Hell, I would’ve played for the draw against Arsenal in the first place, and the players wouldn’t have had to worry about needing to beat Chelsea at all.
But this is all just top-of-my-head stuff. Still having a bit of a Labour Day/long weekend hangover (not to mention the trauma of the Arsenal loss). I’m sure there are plenty of holes in my logic. What do you guys think? Has Fergie gone a bit too gung-ho this time? Or am I over-analyzing as usual?
Sami Hyypia: A formidable foe
On another note, a great player is about to hang up his boots – Liverpool and Finland legend Sami Hyypia, who will be retiring at the end of the Bundesliga season.
He was one of those players you wish your club had signed. Apart from being a quite outstanding defender – probably one of the greatest the Premier League has seen – he is also by all accounts a fantastic human being.
His impact wasn’t just felt in the Premier League, his coach at Bayer Leverkusen was also singing his praises after he announced his retirement.
I remember watching him plenty of times in the Premier League, where he’d shackle some of the best forwards in the world – Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dennis Bergkamp, Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, etc.
He had it all as a defender, and then some. He had a commanding aerial ability and perfect sense of timing in the tackle; and was also a very intelligent reader of the game. But he was also a defender who was comfortable on the ball, and provided a threat at set-pieces.
And to think that Gerard Houllier signed him for just 2.5 million pounds. One of the best buys ever.