Can you really look beyond Liverpool and Man United in this years title race?

New Football FanCast columnist Michael Glover feels the Premier League title race is very much now a two horse race.

“Liverpool won’t last at the top of the table.” The majority of football
fans without an affiliation to the red part of Merseyside have been speaking
these words all season long.

But Liverpool fans have been bouncing to the feeling that this could finally
be the year the Premiership trophy makes its way to Anfield. They have spent
most of this season firmly placed at the top of the Premier League and seem to
have gained that priceless ability to grind out three points when they play
poorly – something that is vital in order to win the league.

January though saw Liverpool unable to notch up a Premiership win and they
went into the vital clash with Chelsea at the weekend with their only win this
year being at Preston North End in the FA Cup. One can only look to manager
Rafael Benitez’s decision to publicly hit back at the king of mind-games Sir
Alex Ferguson. The Reds’ boss seemed ruffled by some of Sir Alex’s comments
about the title race and hit back with a Keegan-esque rant about ‘facts’.

Was this the correct decision from Rafa? Should he have reacted so
hot-headedly at a point in the season when his team just needed to keep
winning? Let’s put it this way: it is a fact that Rafa’s men demolished
Newcastle in their last match of 2008. It is also a fact that since demolishing
Newcastle Rafa made his ‘facts’ speech and his team failed to win their next
three league games, allowing Manchester United to gain a substantial lead at
the top of the table.

Of course, we now know that the Reds secured their first league win of 2009
with a dramatic late brace from Fernando Torres against Chelsea on Sunday. The
win has, in my opinion, left the Premier League a two-horse race for the title.
Liverpool are just about hanging on to the proverbial coat tails of Manchester
United with them now two points behind having played a game more.

With Chelsea potentially eight points behind leaders United they will have
to pull off an astonishing comeback or hope the Red Devils have a major slip
up. The unfortunate thing for Chelsea fans though is that Manchester United
never seems to do slip ups in the run in to the end of the season. In fact,
this is where Sir Alex’s teams always seem to be at their best.

Since the formation of the Premier League Manchester United have been famous,
or infamous in some supporters’ eyes, for their ability to come back in the
second half of the season and simply keep winning. All you have to do is think
back to 1995/96 for probably the best and most famous example of this.
Manchester United overhauled a 12 point January deficit to clinch the title
ahead of Newcastle United on the final day of the season after Kevin Keegan
gave his well-known “I’d love it if we beat them” speech live on Sky
Sports.

Obviously, if Chelsea keeps winning from now until the end of the season
they will always give themselves some sort of chance. But therein lays the
problem. Chelsea doesn’t seem like a team that can win every game until the end
of the season. Against Liverpool on Sunday they were poor, having just two
shots on goal and never looking like scoring.

Chelsea just doesn’t seem to have that extra spark or x-factor that they had
under José Mourinho or even Avram Grant towards the end of last season. The
current manager, Phil Scolari, doesn’t strike you as the kind of person who is
a natural motivator. His demeanour in press conferences is a jolly one – at the
end of December he wished everyone in the country good luck in the coming year.
It’s very nice of him, but is he the kind of personality that can pull off winning
the Premier League?

For me, the answer is no. Maybe he is a different character in the dressing
room and this is just a poor season for Chelsea in relation to their last few.
But I see Scolari’s personality as one that would be much more suited to being
an ice-cream man rather than a Premiership manager. He may be a good tactical
manager, but instead of barking out a stern telling off to his players at half
time I can imagine him handing out Cornettos.

So, the title looks like its going to be a battle between those two great
rivals Manchester United and Liverpool. Most people will put their money on
United – they’ve been in this position almost every Premiership season and are
defending champions. But Liverpool will be desperate to secure their first
league title since 1990. The fact that they have failed to win the league in so
long will be eating away at the fans and the players, a monkey on their backs.
It’s almost become something that the club just needs to get done and out of
the way so they can move on with building the rest of their history.

Whatever happens come the end of the
season the race for the title promises to be an epic clash involving one of the
biggest rivalries in English football.

 


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