Will distractions help City or Liverpool?
With ties about to take place in the last sixteen of the Champions League, the pressure is now even higher on those managers who have teams involved in this leg of the competition.
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have a tie with Porto to deal with, never an easy task, as Manchester United proved last season, needing a wonder goal from Cristiano Ronaldo to see them through to the next round.
Arsenal have struggled at times in the past few weeks and the Portuguese side are a well drilled unit who can give any top side in Europe a really tough game of football. They have a proven goal scorer at European level in the Brazilian Hulk, who could certainly throw his weight around and ball players such as Mariano Gonzalez and Cristian Rodriguez to deal with as well.
Manchester United have what is considered an even tougher tie, versus European giants AC Milan who have five victories to United’s three in eight games in European competition, the two have never drawn a tie. Again, there is a huge amount of pressure and Ferguson will be well aware that he must use his players wisely in the next few weeks if he is to come out of this group of fixtures with his ambitions still attainable.
Chelsea and Ancelotti have the return of the special one to deal with in what will be a quite sensational homecoming. Inter Milan and Jose Mourinho have been in consistent form over the course of the Serie A, though their European form has been slightly less convincing.
Ancellotti will be desperate to get one over Mourinho and show those back in Italy, that he is better than the ‘Special One’ and that Chelsea have made the best possible decision in employing him.
All of this will be on the minds of Rafa Benitez and Roberto Mancini because it means that the potential for slip-ups by their competitors is increased, if only because of the fact that the other teams have more games.
While the Lord and his fellows are out hunting foxes, the knave(s) may sneak in and steal his silverware, perhaps.
Liverpool slipped out of Europe in dismal fashion and Manchester City failed to qualify.
These two teams can now focus on the title with both having eyes for the league trophy no matter the gulf between them and the league leaders.
Liverpool, of course, are a club that do not ever consider themselves out of the title chase, no matter how futile it may seem, such is the honor and ambition that goes with such a prestigious club.
Manchester City are relative new boys to the realm of the top few places in the league, but their financial might and squad ability make them genuine dark horses for a fiery end of season challenge.
It has been seen in the past that teams with thin squads find themselves struggling at such times of the season. A few injuries and not only do games start being lost, but ambitions can be drastically altered.
The three English sides involved will be extremely wary of player fatigue and will have to judge playing combinations to suit.
Manchester United and Arsenal have struggled at times with player availability and in some cases it has been argued that the lack of strength in depth has contributed to their sloppiness at times already this season.
Chelsea have dealt with the loss of key players during the African Cup of Nations and retained their place at the summit of the table, even if it has been whittled away to one point, so of the three, would seem to be the ones who could most well deal with the European distraction.
Benitez and Mancini will sense a chance, and if they can somehow energize their players with the idea that these other sides will now slip up, they could sneak in the back way, and steal a march on these teams while they are distracted by European glory.
Illya McLellan is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, the open source sports network.