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Chelsea faces grueling final stretch

Juan Mata (L) and Oscar
Chelsea faces a tough set of games as they close out the season.
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Warren Barton

Warren Barton draws on 16 years of professional soccer experience as a studio analyst for FOX Soccer. With more than 350 Barclays Premier League appearances, Barton starred for Wimbledon before rising to prominence with Newcastle United and the England national team. Follow him on Twitter.

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You cannot miss a game right now in the Premiership. Yes, the title’s done and won, but not much else is decided. I’m worried about my old club, Newcastle, at one end, and we’re seeing a real fight for Europe at the other. It’s great stuff.

Today I was watching and I thought that it’s just when a game seems like it's over that this sport goes and tosses you a curve. I am sure Sir Alex Ferguson feels that way after walking out of Old Trafford tonight, and he will be seething after that late loss to Chelsea.

That is a massive win for Rafa Benitez ahead of Chelsea’s Wednesday game on FOX Soccer against Spurs (2:30 PM ET). The Blues have a big enemy at this time of year, and that’s fixture congestion. It’s a very tough run-in for them: they had Sunday’s game, they await Spurs, they face Benfica in a major European final, and their final games against Villa and Everton are not easy. They got a bit lucky today – I don’t think we saw much cutting edge – but they will certainly take it, so give credit to manager and to the players. Right now, they hold their destiny in their own hands, and that’s exactly what Rafa wanted.

This game meant nothing to United – but Sir Alex never likes to lose games, and I am certain he will not have wanted to help Benitez out. He will be concerned that this was the first time that United have failed to score at home since winter 2009, and he will go back and shake off the lethargy. United have won the title, but Sir Alex always looks forward and it’s not acceptable for his players to take their foot off the gas. For him, these games are tests for next season.

DOWN THE STRETCH

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At the other end of the table, things are getting very tough. There’s four teams now fighting to avoid the drop, and after Wigan and Villa pulled out wins I’m afraid it’s my Newcastle who are in trouble. Alan Pardew didn’t get enough out of the team Saturday against West Ham and while points are valuable, we need to pick up some wins. With Roberto Martinez getting the win – and having a game in hand – I’m very concerned.

Newcastle simply isn’t scoring goals right now. We only have two goals out of our last six league games and it’s not good enough. We are putting pressure on our defense and even with Fabricio Coloccini back to help out, it’s simply too much. This is a time when our lads have to stand up and be counted. I think we can stay up, but it’s going to be very nervy these next two weeks. I think it will go to the wire. I want to see them get out of it.

I think we also have to give credit to Arsenal and Spurs, who of course are butting heads for that final European spot. Both got the wins they needed, but both teams look like they are a bit gassed. The man who stands out for me is Gareth Bale, who capped off his PFA award double with a sublime goal. I don’t know if he’ll stay at Spurs next year or not, but I’ll tell you this: if he moves on, he’ll be sorely missed.

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I do want to speak a bit about the Championship. That final day really summed up, for me, why English football is the best in the world. You could not ask for more drama and heartbreak as we saw Saturday, and I want to congratulate Steve Bruce on a job well done at Hull. Last year, I think even he asked questions about the job he’d done with Sunderland and whether he still had the desire to manage. He answered himself and any of his critics and it’s going to be interesting to see Hull and Cardiff join us next year.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @warrenbarton2 and ask a question a question at any time using the #heywarren hashtag on @FOXSoccer. I love hearing from you guys! I hope to see you this week and next week as we build up towards one of the biggest games in all of football: the FA Cup, live on FOX broadcast. Thanks as always for reading and watching, and I’ll see you here next week!

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