Any soccer fan would love to see his team at the top of the league by seven points with 12 games to go.
Such is the position where Manchester United can be found in the English Premier League, heading into a break from league play where United visit Inter Milan today in the Champions League and then play Tottenham at Wembley in Sunday’s Carling Cup final.
Liverpool are the only realistic title chasers at this point, sitting seven points back and with their own Champions League tie to deal with Wednesday at Real Madrid. On the weekend, Liverpool visit Middlesbrough with a chance to slim the title gap to four points.
In the hours after Liverpool’s 1-1 home draw with Manchester City, their title hopes have been declared all but dead by writers and summarizers from all around.
Amazingly, Liverpool are seven points back having lost just one match all season (at the death to aforementioned Tottenham). But 10 draws in 26 games have cost the club many valuable points, and at times, they’ve even had to scrape to get the single point, such as on Sunday.
But for whatever reason, I’m not quite buying the talk of the race being over. Liverpool still have a match at Old Trafford in the near future (March 14), this after a home match with Sunderland on March 3. Given past history, it might be a longshot to suggest that Liverpool will beat both Boro and Sunderland. The latter, of course, have managed two draws with Arsenal this season. But should they do so, they are still in a position to have all to play for on March 14. And don’t forget, Liverpool beat United at Anfield, 2-1.
So, as I see it, the title race isn’t over, and comes down to this. Liverpool must win at Boro and vs. Sunderland to make the game at Old Trafford (another must win) matter. They also need to come out of their Champions League adventures healthy.
United are already at a deficit in that department, so thin at the back that Joaquin Phoenix, beard and all, may start in the defense today at Inter. The trademark of United this year has been defense, allowing just 11 goals in the league this term. But if the injuries continue in that part of the lineup, it’s fair to wonder whether such fine form will continue.
Starting for United at Inter today.
Perhaps I’m making the case for Liverpool due to my Cubs fan complex, which makes no lead safe and no bit of good fortune unaccompanied by fears of when the black cloud will return.
But even if United win at Newcastle, Liverpool could be within just a point (though United would have the world famous game in hand) come mid-March.
If United beat Liverpool on March 14, then I’ll be ready to listen to the eulogies for Liverpool’s Premier League challenge.