Last season, United had played all of the season before’s top ten away from home before Christmas, which was reflected in our position in the league. This season we’ve had another pretty tough start, playing Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur when they were on fire, and the other form team, City, are to come.
United were predicted to finish third this season by plenty of papers, with Chelsea finishing second and Liverpool winning the league. So far, Chelsea look to be the main challengers for our title but how easy is it to be top of the league when you haven’t had to play anyone good?
We tend to have slow starts to the season. When we won the league and European Cup double the season before last, beating Chelsea to the title on the final day of the season then going on to beat them on penalties in the Champions League final, we had a woeful start to the season, drawing two and losing the other of our first three games. Reading, who we drew to at home on the opening day of the season, were relegated that year.
This year, Burnley have been the team to provide the shock, with them proving to be fairly tough contenders at home, seeing off Everton the following match. Had Michael Carrick scored the penalty, it would have been a different day, but we were generally awful and Burnley scored a cracker, so credit to them.
In contrast, whilst Chelsea haven’t slipped up against any weaker opponents, they also haven’t proved themselves against any strong ones either. This Chelsea blog reckons that they have nothing to worry about and they will see off the tougher teams when they play them. Of course, I’m in agreement that you can only beat the teams that are put in front of you, but if beating them has been a struggle, how will they fare against teams that might actually finish in the top half of the table?
Against Hull on the opening day, an injury time miskick was the difference between Chelsea drawing and winning, with Didier Drogba conceding after the game that his intention was to cross the ball, not to shoot. Scoring by accident, with one of the last touches of the game, at home to a team that lost to our Reserves on their most important day of the season, is not exactly what I’d call convincing.
In their next match they beat Sunderland away from home, showing determination to come back from a goal behind. However, the goal that put them in front was a gift after Drogba was tripped and Lampard put away the penalty. It was a good second half performance for Chelsea but beating Sunderland is hardly the toughest of tasks.
Most recently, Chelsea beat Stoke thanks to another injury time winner, just weeks after Stoke needed a goal in extra time to beat League One’s Leyton Orient.
Of course I’m not slating injury time winners because it proves great fitness and concentration to keep playing until the final whistle – that is what good teams are capable of doing. But it makes you wonder if Chelsea had been playing good teams with better fitness and concentration, would they be top of the league now?
Chelsea dominated the chances and possession in the games against Hull and Stoke but needed a miskick from Drogba and two injury time goals (first and second half) to get full points on the board. It will be a lot harder to dominate the game when up against better teams and they can’t rely on miskicks and their opponents lacking concentration/fitness.
There’s a long way to go and things really don’t start to look clear until February time, but I for one am interested to see how Chelsea get on when facing tougher opposition. It will start with Spurs at home, who won’t be flying high with confidence as they were before we played them, but will still should be up for it. Within the next few weeks they will have another tough game against Liverpool, again at home, followed by an away trip to Villa Park.
Chelsea are going to give us a run for our money this season but it’s reassuring to see that during a time when we have been written off and haven’t been at our best, we’re still three points off the top spot having played much more difficult fixtures.
Roll on derby day!