Thanks to Chelsea’s uncharacteristic one goal reverse at St Andrews and Arsenal’s rather worrying second half capitulation at home to rivals Tottenham, the title momentum shifted away from the nation’s Capital this weekend, heading back up the motorway towards Manchester.
As their nearest rivals in the table both crashed to unexpected and ultimately very damaging loses, City and United recorded crucial wins this weekend as the race for this season’s English Premier League crown went up a gear.
The weekends early kick off saw Harry Redknapp’s Spurs arrive at The Emirates stadium looking for their first win at Arsenal in seventeen years, and after twenty seven minutes it seemed as if the away side would have to continue their wait.
A Cesc Fabregas inspired Arsenal side raced into a two goal lead before the half hour and at that point it seemed as if the gunners were in the mood for a lot more, the elegant and skilful Nasri scored the first from an inch perfect Fabregas through ball before Marouane Chamakh made it two. Yet for all of Arsenal’s fine attacking play Arsene Wenger will be gravely concerned with his sides second half collapse, goals from Bale and Kaboul either side of a Van der Vaart penalty saw Spurs win the game and the bragging rights, condemning Arsenal to a third home loss of the season. The Frenchman’s team can ill afford anymore slip ups in the league and with trips to Villa Park and Old Trafford sandwiching the visit of Fulham, the next few weeks will be crucial.
Equally Chelsea have three potentially huge EPL games looming on the horizon following a disastrous couple of weeks. The loses to Liverpool, Sunderland and now Birmingham have all exposed frailties that few thought were there, coupled with the acrimonious departure of popular coach Ray Wilkins these have been extremely trying weeks for Carlo Ancelotti. Although the likes of Terry, Lampard and Essien have been sorely missed, the champion’s squad should be strong enough to cope.
In fairness to Ancelotti’s men, on Saturday afternoon Chelsea did everything but score. Outshooting their hosts by ten to one Chelsea came up against a resolute Birmingham who refused to give way. Ben Foster in the Birmingham goal made a string of top class saves to deny Didier Drogba and as the game wore on Chelsea ran out of ideas and ultimately ran out of steam. Lee Bowyer’s goal from a Cameron Jerome knock down gave Birmingham their first win over Chelsea in thirty years and it was richly deserved. Their rearguard action was personified by central defensive duo Roger Johnson and Scott Dann who were again magnificent. In the current international climate one would think that they cannot be too far away from receiving recognition from England coach Fabio Capello, they certainly staked their respective claims here.
So with the two main London clubs dropping points it was Manchester’s turn to take the limelight. Manchester United know all about winning titles and as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side quietly and efficiently eased past nine man Wigan thoughts will again turn to the idea of United finally surpassing Liverpool’s record of eighteen league titles. Goals from Patrice Evra and Javier Hernandez gave United the win and with Wayne Rooney’s return to the side as a second half substitute the red devils are starting to pick up some momentum. With Blackburn the next visitors to Old Trafford before a trip to the seaside to see Blackpool, United could well be in pole position by the time Arsenal come to town on 13th December.
So with United moving level on points with Chelsea and Arsenal’s failure in the North London derby still fresh, it was crucial that Manchester City put in a performance and more importantly got a positive result away at Fulham on Sunday afternoon; and they certainly did. The visitors 4-1 demolition of their former boss Mark Hughes’ side was a statement of intent from Mancini’s men. Two more Carlos Tevez goals and strike each from Yaya Toure and Pablo Zabaleta saw City move to within three points of top spot following a number of very low key performances in recent weeks. ‘Boring, boring City’ was the sarcastic refrain of the travelling fans as the visitors raced into an early lead and never looked back. The steel of Nigel De Jong and the artistry of Tevez and Silva often proved the difference for Mancini’s side, as the utterly dominated at Craven Cottage. City’s movement and passing was reminiscent of Arsenal in their pomp, Fulham were utterly ineffective as wave after wave of dark blue shirts beat them into submission. Clint Dempsey’s single reply was an island of hope for Fulham amidst an expensively assembled storm.
Whilst City’s performance was almost flawless at times it is crucial that they build on this result, with Stoke, Bolton and West Ham to come in their next three outings Manchester City now have the perfect platform on which to build a genuine challenge for the top four if not for the English Premier League crown itself.