Before a game had even been played this season, Chelsea were tipped as favourites to win the league, despite our Premiership and Champions League double in May, which saw us beat Chelsea to the prize on both occasions.
As the season has gone on, this prediction has seemingly been confirmed with Chelsea six points clear of United at the top. However, with a game in hand and much trickier fixtures on the way, the rent boys’ dominance isn’t as impressive as the press might make out.
Sir Alex Ferguson has today spoken about Chelsea’s status as favourites, giving his own explanation as to why that might be.
Whilst already facing two of the remaining other top three teams away from home already, the fixtures don’t seem to get any easier. Before Christmas, we’ve got a trip to Arsenal, meaning we’ll have played all of the top teams away from Old Trafford, whilst some of the Chelsea won’t have faced even one of the top sides away, as well as going to Wastelands to face The Richest Team In The World (TM).
The World Championship we are set to play in following our European Cup win also adds to the strain, meaning we go two weeks without a Premiership game, only to travel for an away fixture three days after returning from Japan.
“It’s interesting the bookies make Chelsea favourites for the title,” Ferguson said. “I think the reason for that is that we’ve got the World Championship, when we’re away for 10 days. Coming back from that is a test for us. We’re back on December 23 and play Stoke on Boxing Day. That’s where the title will be decided for us — how we handle that.”
The benefit United have is our toughest games of the season will already be out of the way by that point. Of the current top ten teams, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, City, Portsmouth and Blackburn all have to come to Old Trafford from January onwards.
To be honest though, I don’t think the bookies are weighing the World Championship in to their decision at all. Their logic is fairly basic, and flawed, in that with a new manager and Deco, Chelsea will improve on last season’s efforts, therefore will make up the two points they were lacking on us then. Of course, this doesn’t take in to consideration any improvements for United.
We’ve picked up 14 points from our first 7 games, exactly the same as last season, however last season we hadn’t faced Chelsea and Liverpool away in those games. We’ve already improved and with the number of young players in our squad, all a year more experienced now, it would be mad to rule out significant improvement in our team.
Ferguson has also reflected on the season so far, claiming we are now back to normal and well on our way.
“The start of the season was always going to be difficult,” he said. “We had players who hadn’t really had a pre-season. But, as I said, after the Chelsea game I was certain we were on the right track. That game went away from us simply because our legs went away from us. Neville, Hargreaves, Berbatov, Ronaldo — they were all really playing their first game of the season. I felt then that in two or three weeks we’d be back to normal, and I think we are.”
Will this be the toughest season yet? Quite possibly. But I still am entirely confident our trophy is staying put.