38 matches played, 114 points up for grabs, then at the end of a grueling nine month marathon it took one point, just one measly, solitary point to give Chelsea delirious success and inflict desolate failure on Manchester United. Two clubs who gave their all in a determined attempt to gain that wafer thin edge. Thousands of refereeing decisions and hundreds of controversial incidents combined to produce an enthralling Premier League season which was not decided until the very last day.
The longest serving manager was pitted against the newest with both displaying the sort of dignity which was sometimes lacking in previous years. Who can forget one particular club manager at the end of last season bluntly refusing to send the customary letter of congratulations to the winning one for his success in a juvenile display of pettiness?
It has been proven year after year that championships are never won without a slight rub of the green, a touch of good fortune whenever it is needed given that luck invariably evens itself out over a long season. It’s also true to say however that when one side is blessed by it at the right place, in the right time, it becomes an almost unbeatable combination for any rival to overcome.
Some will argue that Manchester United had a share of it this season in the two matches against cross town rivals Manchester City with late, injury time winners in not one, but both of the derbies. Others will reasonably point out to questionable refereeing decisions which handed all six points to Chelsea in highly contentious, possibly decisive circumstances.
But there are other factors which can come into play just as often, some of which are not widely regarded as being obvious. Take as an example one reason which may have been far more influential in Chelsea clinching the Premier League title than any other yet, it appears to be completely overlooked.
In the middle of March, just as the season was entering its home run, Chelsea suffered a Champions League home defeat by Inter Milan which eliminated them from the competition. With the exception of an FA Cup semi final against Aston Villa, Chelsea had nothing else left to play for and were therefore left free to concentrate on their remaining nine Premier League matches.
That, possibly more than anything, gave them the slight edge required to eventually gain the one point difference that eventually decided the title race. Manchester United were yet to face German champions Bayern Munich in a Champions League quarter final giving Sir Alex Ferguson far more to worry about than just the remaining league fixtures.
Coming as close as it did to the end of the season, United’s home match against their main rival was always going to be pivotal in the destination of the championship. The fact that fate deemed it to be sandwiched between the away leg in Munich and the return at Old Trafford made the task that much more difficult. As if Chelsea did not have enough advantage from the situation, United’s problems were further complicated by a last minute ankle injury to leading marksman Wayne Rooney which ruled him out of the weekends crunch match.
Rather than face a tough Champions League opponent, Chelsea were able to enjoy a full week in which to concentrate and prepare for the visit to Old Trafford. Although there were still a further five matches remaining, there was never any doubt that the title was destined to be decided by the result of that game.
Controversial decisions such as the offside Drogba goal, Bolton’s two unrewarded penalties at Stamford Bridge and others, the Premiership success by Chelsea was almost certainly a reward for failure in the Champions League while the failure of Manchester United to retain their title was the price that had to be paid for success in qualifying for a European quarter final.
Was the meeting with Bayern Munich more important than winning the title?