Well, let it never be said that there's no competition for anything in the Premiership. I may have a sincere dislike for both teams, but the Manchester United-Chelsea duel at the top is nothing short of fascinating. Now that Man U drew today at home against Middlesbrough - talk about a no-no - Chelsea can pull within one point with a win at Newcastle tomorrow. Better yet, the two teams meet May 9 at Stamford Bridge for both teams' second-to-last game of the season. Both teams have one difficult away match left (Man U has to go to fifth-place Everton next week; Chelsea has to go to fourth-place Arsenal on May 6). Whatever happens, that match on May 9 is must-see TV for any soccer fan, even for those who (like me) hate both teams.
There's also a big five-way scrum for the 5th and 6th spot which guarantee a UEFA Cup berth. Everton and Bolton currently hold them, but Reading, Tottenham, and Portsmouth lurk. Right now, I'd think Everton and Tottenham will get the spots, but anything could happen.
This race just got more interesting thanks to Reading's 3-1 away win over Bolton today (not to mention Everton's inexplicable loss to relegation fodder West Ham), a game which I was fortunate enough to be able to watch. A few notes:
- A three goal in ten minute flurry is always fun to watch, especially when it makes the announcers eat crow because they suggested Reading should stay defensive after the game went to 1-1. It always cracks me up how soccer announcers seem to think that the away team should always play for a tie, especially if the game is past the 80th minute. After Kevin Doyle's 83rd minute penalty tied the game up, the announcers seemed honestly suprised that Reading kept pushing forward. Honestly, Reading had an attacking team on the field at that moment, they had the momentum, and they weren't going to go for the jugular? Really?
- I think I heard the announcers say something about Reading manager Steve Coppell commenting that he hoped his team didn't make the UEFA Cup because he felt like they weren't ready. Excuse me? Did Coppell really say this? If so, he's damn lucky I'm not the owner of the team or he'd be right out on his ass. Can you imagine a football coach saying, "you know what, I hope we don't make the playoffs this year, because we'll just lose?" Isn't making the UEFA Cup always better than not making the UEFA Cup? What am I missing here? I really hope that Coppell is using an elaborate reverse-psychology ruse here (which seems to be working - since he made the remark, Reading has made it to 7th place, one game out of the Cup).
Anyway, the third interesting competition is at the bottom, where Fulham, Wigan, Charlton, Sheffield United, and West Ham are struggling to stay in the Premiership. With Watford's goose officially cooked, those five teams are battling for three spots. Unfortunately, Fulham's got the roughest schedule left (Arsenal, Liverpool, Middlesbrough), but Charlton and West Ham don't exactly have it easy either and Fulham's got a game on both of them. Wigan and West Ham have a game next weekend that could have huge implications; should Wigan lose that game, they'll have an end-of-season match with Charlton that could make for fascinating, if morbid, television.