Nine months of hard slog and this is what it’s come down to. 18 of the 20 Premier League clubs have fallen by the wayside leaving two heavyweights to slug it out with just one point separating them in their penultimate matches. The title may well be decided on Sunday but it will take a much braver man than me to bet his house on it.
All the pre match talk has been about what sort of challenge Liverpool will present Chelsea with at Anfield, apparently assuming that Manchester United will take all three points at Sunderland. The fact that the Black Cats have only been beaten by Chelsea and Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light so far this season seems to have been forgotten.
More to the point, Steve Bruce’s side came within seconds of defeating United at Old Trafford in October taking an injury time own goal by Anton Ferdinand to grab an equalizer. How precious will those two dropped points be for the champions today? So much for conspiracy theorists who insist that the close friendship between Bruce and Sir Alex Ferguson always give an edge to United.
Ferguson has injury concerns with Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Gary Neville all highly unlikely to take any part but long term absentee Owen Hargreaves could take his place amongst the substitutes, possibly making a long awaited appearance at some stage of the game.
Sunderland are currently in the middle of a good run collecting three wins from their last four matches with a defeat at West Ham being the only blemish. Midfielder Lee Cattermole and full back George McCartney will face late fitness tests while John Mensah and Andy Reid will definitely be out of action.
Top scorer Darren Bent will be the obvious danger man for United as he strives to get onto the score sheet once again in order to further strengthen his aim of impressing England manager Fabio Capello ahead of the World Cup squad being named. Bruce has Sunderland sitting in a comfortable tenth place on the table with no pressure on them whatsoever.
All the pressure will be on United however as they will be aware of Chelsea’s result at Anfield by the time their game kicks off. Should the league leaders drop points it will be a matter of a must win in order to gain pole position in the race for the title. Goal difference no longer comes into play so Ferguson will not be throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to improve it.
The bottom line is that United will be playing for a record breaking 19th title which will be a huge incentive for them to get all three points. The 64 thousand dollar question then becomes, will Chelsea?
Will the two points dropped at Blackburn cost the title or will the one point picked up win it?