LONDON: This time last year, the weekend when the clocks change, Chelsea sat third in the Premier League, Manchester United were second and Manchester City were top writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The top three remain the same. Only the order has changed. United are again second but Chelsea are top and City are third.
However while Chelsea will stay top whatever their result at home to United on Sunday, victory for the Blues would carry significant psychological value.
First, the European champions would have bounced back from a 2-1 defeat by Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine on Tuesday but secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they would extend their lead over United to seven points.
Chelsea were largely outplayed by Shakhtar. Manager Roberto Di Matteo’s tactical plan was wrecked by an early calf injury which forced Frank Lampard out of the 2-1 defeat. He will miss the United game.
In fact, United probably have more injury worries than Chelsea. Shinji Kagawa twisted a knee in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Braga and will be out for a month. The other problem for manager Sir Alex Ferguson is putting some iron back into his defence ahead of not only Sunday’s game against Chelsea, next Wednesday return to Stamford Bridge in the League Cup and then the following Saturday’s home league clash against Arsenal.
United have fallen behind eight times in 12 games this season. Ferguson said: “I can’t get to the bottom of it. If you analyse the goals we are losing, they have come from throw-ins, crosses, cut-backs – all sorts – and our opponents are finding players free in the box. It is making life difficult for us.”
One obvious contribution to an answer could be the recall against Chelsea of Rio Ferdinand who was rested on Tuesday.
Ferdinand’s presence will raise more issues than the ‘mere’ result of the game. He defied Ferguson last weekend in ignoring the Kick It Out campaign’s weekend expectation that all players would wear slogan T-shirts.
Ferdinand and other black players believe the English football authorities are not doing enough to counter racist attitudes. They viewed the four-game ban on John Terry for his racist comment clash last October with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand as evidence. Some want their own black players’ union.
Terry will miss Sunday’s game through the suspension which is fortunate. At least this time there will be no ‘pre-match handshake’ controversy and perhaps the outcome of a Very Important Match can take centre stage.