As we go into an FA Cup weekend, the Premier League takes a break (bar a rearranged fixture between Liverpool and Swansea). But when it returns a week on Saturday (Feb 23rd) apparently the title race is over and Manchester United are the 2012 / 2013 Premier League Champions already!!!!!!! Though I have not seen a trophy presentation and what’s that – oh yeah and when I look at the table only 26 games have been played!!!!!!! All very confusing 😉
Admittedly the Red Devils of Manchester beat Everton last weekend to stretch their lead to 12 points after their nearest rivals, the current Champions, Manchester City lost to Southampton. But hey haven’t we been here before. I suspect Sir Alex is not doing any poultry counting or fat lady ordering yet especially after last season (not that he ever did). 36 points are still to play for, so things are not done and dusted yet in my opinion and here are 12 reasons why I think the title race is most definitely not over!!!!!!!
1) Its February!!!!!!! – no prizes are handed out in February (well part from the League Cup – good luck to Bradford and Swansea). Titles are won over a long hard season. And for me unless it is mathematically impossible for anyone to usurp the team at the top – nothing is decided. Don’t get me wrong being a double figure number of points ahead at this stage is a fantastic position, but it means nothing in terms of getting hands on the trophy – see the next three points to illustrate this perfectly.
2) 8 points 6 games – I don’t need to explain this one to Manchester United fans. A collapse no one could have seen happening. Fair play to Man City for winning their last 6 games, but hardly anyone would have thought United would drop the requisite points.
3) 1997/98 season – Manchester United were 11 points ahead at the beginning of March 1998, Arsenal overhauled the deficit – including a deserved victory at Old Trafford and won the league by a point.
4) 1995/96 season – Newcastle were 12 points ahead in January, but Man Utd went on a run of victories, including a win at St James’s Park and nicked the league by 4 points.
5) The Premier League Fixture list – Now Manchester United need 25 more points to guarantee that no other team can overtake them at the top. Here are their remaining 12 fixtures:-
QPR(a), Norwich(h), West Ham(a), Reading(h), Sunderland(a), Manchester City(h), Stoke(a), Aston Villa(h), Arsenal(a), Chelsea(h), Swansea(h), West Brom(a)
Not an easy fixture list. Let’s take the homes. The hardest games being against teams in blue, a massive derby and Chelski, no gimmes there then, which brings me onto the four others. You would think they would be guaranteed wins, but remember Blackburn last season, bottom of the league at the time they came to Old Trafford and won (on Fergie’s 70th Birthday no less – Football = zero sentiment). Take nothing for granted I say as no game in the Premier League is easy. As for the aways, all difficult, 3 visits to London and tricky trips to the Midlands and one to the North East. And let’s be honest, most teams love beating Manchester United on their home patch so lots of work to do IMO. One of the most intriguing is their next league fixture, which could put them 15 points clear (as Man City play the following day) against bottom of the table QPR at Loftus Road. A side desperate for points, so Bottom v Top – surely only one winner??????? – see above re: Blackburn – buyer beware!!!!!!!
6) Fixture Congestion from other competitions – Now Manchester United as they stand are still in the FA Cup and the Champions League and if they progress then their run in will become more clogged with fixtures. Yes they have a strong squad, but more games, means more potential issues like injuries (see reason 7). Three of the their fixtures will need to be rearranged if they get all the way to the final of the FA Cup and further progression in the Champions League will mean midweek fixtures till the end of the season. Their nearest challengers only have the FA Cup to worry about on top of their League fixtures.
7) Potential Injuries – United had a crack squad last year and did only lose the title on goal difference which really irked Sir Alex. So what does he do – well he sets out to get the one man he knows will make sure that will not be a factor, that man Robin Van Persie. This has proved a buy from heaven as far as this season is concerned and he has been a key player. As mentioned United have a lot of quality in their squad but an injury to RVP could be crucial, especially if they have similar injury problems to the ones that beset their defence at the start of the season. For any team key players getting injuries is a major issue, they can happen at any time and if it happens to the players that can make the difference, those wins may turn to draws and draws to losses.
8) Manchester City not playing well – You know what they say – form is temporary, class is permanent. Yes City have a mountain to climb and it is unlikely they will overhaul United for a second season. But 12 points down with 12 to play is better odds than last year (8 down 6 to play). One thing that has been mentioned is that City are not playing as well as last year. Maybe so, but when they lost to Arsenal 1-0, to fall those eight points behind they weren’t playing well then, but still roused themselves to win the last six games and hence take the title. Yes helped by slips up from Manchester United (see the next reason), but you still have to go out and win the matches. Obviously winning the derby was crucial, but so was their last game, which showed the character that their neighbours across the city have shown season after season after season. 1-2 down at home in their biggest match for 44 years and they got over the line – all credit to them and shows they can battle when necessary especially if their rivals falter. Ps In February 1986, Everton beat Liverpool 0-2 at Anfield to go 8 points ahead of them in the league. Liverpool won the league by 2 points and then beat Everton in the FA Cup final.
9) Complacency!!!!!!! – A big reason, in my opinion anyways, that contributed to Manchester United failure to retain their title last season was a bit of complacency. The day Man City lost to Arsenal; the Red Devils had played QPR at Old Trafford in the earlier match. Now at the time the goal differences were close. Now in that match for whatever reason, QPR were reduced to 10 men, United then proceeded to treat the contest like a training game and only won 2-0, losing a great chance to up the goal difference. In the following fixture at Wigan, the players just did not turn up as the home team dominated for most of the game and fully deserved to thwart the standard United late charge. As for the Everton game 3-1 and 4-2 up in the second half – you need to see the game out. Sir Alex has said that the players did not expect a performance like that from Wigan or Everton to come back as they did. UNBELIEVEABLE IMO – well they learned the hard way!!!!!!!
10) Discipline – Now anyone who watches football regularly knows it’s a game that ebbs and flows and the beauty is that just because you are in a better position in the league, are perceived to have better players or a better team – it means nothing throughout the heat of battle over 90 mins. Things can go for you, and against you, but it’s important that players keep their head, don’t make silly challenges or do silly things that can bring about admonishment from the officials, especially if frustration sets in!!!!!!! Red and yellow cards seem to be dished out quite readily in football nowadays and being sent off in a match will have a major influence on a game as well as the subsequent suspension. Heads need to be kept.
11) Nerves – No matter what anybody says we have seen top sportsmen and women choke at crucial stages. It will be in the Manchester United players psyche what happened last season especially if points are dropped in the run in. Strong minds required.
12) BetFred and Paddy Power – These two publicity seeking bookmakers have paid out on the Red side of Manchester winning the league already. Surprising, but not the first time, for either of them to give their customers winnings back early. Even stranger is the fact that Fred Done (a lifelong Manchester United fan and season ticket holder) has paid out early twice before and been burned, once in 1998 when Arsenal pipped them to the title – Sir Alex told him not to do that again, but then he did it last season and we all know what happened!!!!!!! Apparently his wife warned him not to do it this time. I suppose he is hoping third time lucky!!!!!!! Though any person who defies Sir Alex and then more so his wife must be extremely brave.
So there’s my reasoning. Am I talking waffle or is there some substance in my cautious outlook. Don’t get me wrong, Manchester United should win the title from here, but you know what they say “Football’s a funny old game” Let me know your thoughts.