Chelsea hold league title keys as other clubs attempt to keep pace
LONDON — Vincent Tan, the feisty and outspoken owner of Cardiff City, sure picked a funny time to tell us that red was a lucky color in Asia, with his club wearing it as defeat after defeat sends Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players hurtling towards relegation. But then the Premier League is based in Europe, isn’t it?
Tan insisted that Cardiff, still nicknamed the Bluebirds, change hue as part of a significant investment leading to promotion last season. The idea that the subsequent achievement might have been largely down to the players and popular coach Malky Mackay seems not to have occurred to the Malaysian, who sacked Mackay just after Christmas.
He continues to make unfavorable comparison with Solskjaer. But results keep getting worse and Cardiff desperately need to beat Fulham at home this weekend to raise hope of beating the drop back to the Championship — and any luck that comes with red will, of course, be welcome in the Welsh capita
The ominous indication for Tan and Cardiff’s fans, however, is that the Premier League is increasingly colored blue. We can certainly advise officials to prepare blue ribbons for the day — May 11 — when the season ends and we know who’s going to receive the trophy, because the most exciting title race in many years is likely to come down to a final sprint between Chelsea and Manchester City.
Yes, there’s a growing belief that red-clad Liverpool might be the ones to break the tape and their clarity of purpose — Brendan Rodger’s men have no European distraction, or domestic since their FA Cup defeat at Arsenal — is a strong argument, as is the sure-footed way the coach is running the campaign, keeping expectations under control.
My feeling is nonetheless that Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, with a four-point lead over them and 10 games to go, are the favorites. Experience counts for a lot at this stage of the season and the London club harbors plenty of it. Mourinho wins national titles — whether in Portugal, England, Italy or Spain — almost by habit and players like John Terry and Frank Lampard are familiar with the course, too.
They also have the advantage of that brilliantly executed victory over City in Manchester a few weeks ago. Before Mourinho out-schemed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad, City were the most fancied team and the class of Yaya Toure, David Silva and a fit-again Sergio Aguero should keep them in contention.
They also know they can do it — Aguero’s last-gasp title clincher against Queens Park Rangers the season before last is part of Premier League lore — but the Mourinho factor is powerful, even if there are some hazardous fixtures ahead of Chelsea, including derbies against the North London pair that threaten the coach’s record of never having lost a Premier League game at Stamford Bridge in his two spells there.
First Tottenham come on Saturday, buoyed by good form since Tim Sherwood replaced Andre Villas-Boas in the dugout and, in particular, the renaissance of striker Emmanuel Adebayor, whom Mourinho once had under his wing at Real Madrid, until the Spanish club’s hierarchy decided to let him go.
Chelsea should still have enough to claim all three points. Adebayor, since his return to the side, won’t have come across a more solid defense than that marshaled by Terry with Gary Cahill by his side and Cesar Azpilicueta emerging as such a fine leftback that England’s cap centurion Ashley Cole usually watches from the bench. There’s greater solidity in midfield as well, now that Nemanja Matic has been brought to Stamford Bridge, like Mourinho, a second time.
All Chelsea need is more goals from an array of strikers featuring Samuel Eto’o, Fernando Torres and Demba Ba. But while the attacking midfielders keep chipping in — Eden Hazard has been one of the stars of the League this season and only last weekend Andre Schurrle performed a masterly hat trick at Fulham — the points keep coming.
It could be close, for Spurs, even under Villas-Boas, gave few goals away — except the six at the Etihad that contributed to the coach’s downfall — and Sherwood makes sure the defense is always well protected by the likes of Sandro and Paulinho. But will a team chasing European soccer be content to dig in as single-handedly as West Ham, fearing relegation at the time, did in drawing at the Bridge?
I think not. And a slender win would put Chelsea seven points above Liverpool, who are idle due to scheduled opponent Sunderland’s continued participation in the FA Cup. And nine above City, even though Cup duty means Pellegrini’s squad will have three games in hand. And cause the challenge of Arsenal, also involved in the Cup this weekend, to fade further. As the Chelsea song goes, "Blue is the color."
Just don’t sing it to Vincent Tan.