-Where else to start than with a rampant United team, who continue to defy the odds and produce workman-like performances to get them over the line. Fergie made 8 changes from the team that played against Chelsea in midweek, most notably Rio Ferdinand was given a rest and of course, the infamous Wayne Rooney was banned. This meant a deserved start for the league’s top scorer Dimitar Berbatov, who yet again at Old Trafford was on top form. He netted his 21st league goal of the campaign after some great work for Nani. The 2nd came shortly after, when the ever dangerous Nani nudged the ball past rushing Fulham goalkeeper Marc Schwarzer, rounded a defender before trying a delicate chip into the goal. The defender managed to get up in time to head the ball away, which unfortunately for him merely altered the ball’s path straight onto the head of Antonio Valencia, who obliged and secured United’s second goal of the game.
A quick note on this determined player, who has showed the mental strength and confidence required when returning from a heavy injury to succeed at one of the biggest clubs in the world. Well done Antonio, after he suffered that horror leg break very early in the campaign, he has returned with devastating effect, producing some fine attacking and defending displays, with him arguably being our best player. From his return at half time against Arsenal, he has looked as steady, composed and threatening as ever. What a miss he has been, but we can look at him as a new player, showing everyone that he can perform at the top level and I believe he will be back to his best soon.
United saw out the rest of the game without really getting out of second gear, thanks mainly to Fulham’s inability to offer anything in the game. They are generally better than that, and have been a bogey side for us over the years, however never at Old Trafford and certainly not this time round. With 6 league games left, the destiny of the league is very much in our hands and therefore whether we win it or (God-forbid) lose it, we will have ourselves entirely to credit (or blame). The squad is looking extremely strong, with the return of Rio, Antonio, Ando and of course Scholes from his 2 match ban has given our team the depth required to win the league. With those types of options available for the manager, no matter what sort of team he puts out, there are always options on the bench with the ability to change the course of the match. It’s very exciting and with Chelsea tomorrow night in the Champions League, every game is a cup final and every game has a significant effect on the outcome of the season.
-Chelsea scraped past a brave Wigan Athletic 1-0 at Stamford Bridge. The Lactics must have been encouraged by United in midweek, as they offered some stern resistance to the Blues. However, a scrappy Malouda goal sealed the victory for Chelsea but definitely did not send out many alarm bells. Torres’s goal drought continued, as he missed some good chances which would have relieved some of the pressure he must be feeling. He will come right, sooner or later something has to give, but right now I am loving his form and hope to see it continue at least until after Tuesday night.
-Arsenal battled their way past a stubborn Blackpool side who are still showing the character their manager (and legend) Ian Holloway has tried to instil into them. The Gunners flew into the lead with goals from Diaby and Eboue, and the Seasiders were lucky to get into the halftime break with that 2-0 scoreline as Arsenal could have been at least 4 up. After the break, Blackpool came to the party and scored a goal of their own, sounding the alarm bells for the Gunners. They were then unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after Koscielny clearly misjudged his tackle but the ref missed it and play continued. Their sustained pressure did not tell, as a breakaway goal from Van Persie secured the points for Arsenal who keeps the pressure on the league leaders.
- The early game produced a surprising result as Everton beat Wolves away 3-0 to keep their chances our Europe alive. Crackers from Phil Neville and Diniyar Bilyaletindov, as well as a Jermaine Beckford goal saw the Toffees to victory.
- Sunderland threw away their leads at home to lose to a resurgent West Brom under manager Roy Hodgson. That 2-3 away victory sees the Baggies rise to 10th and further away from that dreaded relegation zone. Sunderland, after their high-flying start, have been in free fall and should look out as they are dragged closer and closer to the relegation zone.
- Blackburn and Birmingham played out a 1-1 draw, while Bolton smashed West Ham United 3-0.
- There was a much needed victory for Tottenham as they held off Stoke City to win 3-2 at home. Two crackers Matthew Etherington and Kenwyne Jones put substantial pressure on Spurs, but Peter Crouch atoned for his red card in midweek by scoring a double to see off the Potters and hand Spurs a welcomed 3 points.
- Finally, Aston Villa secured a tight 1-0 win at home over Newcastle, easing the pressure on manager Gerard Houllier and lifting them further away from the relegation zone.
After the weekend, the league looks as follows:
After a closer look, a few notable mentions:
- A Man City victory tonight against Liverpool can lift them above Chelsea into 3rd, but having played a game more. Regardless of the extra game played, it will add further pressure on Chelsea.
- If Liverpool are serious about challenging for that 4th place, they must win tonight at home. I’m sure they will start both Carroll and Suarez, but with Gerrard out for the season, could it be a push to far?
- Seeing West Brom in the top half of the table makes me realise that any of the teams fighting to stay in the league can be encouraged, as just a couple of wins can secure them their top flight status.
- It’s looking more and more likely that the 3 W’s – Wigan, Wolves and West Ham could go down, however it’s far from decided.
Overall, a good enough weekend as United won again and that keeps the future of the league in our own hands. With only 6 games left to play, it means that realistically we could lose to Arsenal and still win the league. However, knowing the Gunners, I wouldn’t be surprised if they dropped more points before we meet on 1 May.