How big freeze turned up the heat in Europe's most exciting title race

 

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The Independent Online

In Portugal, Porto wrapped up the title with five games left to play. In Germany, Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga on Saturday with two games to spare. In Spain, Barcelona have a lead of eight points that no one expects them to squander with four games to play. But in the Premier League, no one can yet be certain where the trophy will reside come 6pm on 22 May.

For a competition that has been derided as predictable and tame over the years, England's elite division has thrown up a season this time that, while it might lack one team of overriding quality, has retained an engrossing capacity to surprise over and again. Manchester United's defeat to Arsenal on Sunday has opened up the possibility that Chelsea's visit to Old Trafford this coming Sunday could again turn the title race on its head.

With two games left in the Premier League after next Sunday's first against second, the game at Old Trafford will be decisive only if United win. But if they lose, there is a good chance that the title could be decided by goal difference. United still have destiny in their hands but, given that they enjoyed a 15-point lead over Chelsea until their defeat to them on 1 March, that is no guarantee.

Given this is the season for conspiracy theories: how about this one? That game against United which proved so pivotal to reviving Chelsea's season was originally scheduled for 19 December before London suffered its biggest snowfall in 18 years. The pitch was playable and the game was postponed because of fears about the conditions around the stadium.

At the time, United were on a run of three straight wins. By contrast, Chelsea had not won a game in a sequence of five.

In mid-December, Frank Lampard was just returning from injury, David Luiz (above) was not yet a Chelsea player and Didier Drogba was out of form. In that game rescheduled for 1 March, Luiz and Lampard were the goalscorers in a 2-1 win and Drogba came on to make an impact in the last 30 minutes. Rio Ferdinand would have been fit in mid-December, but come 1 March he was injured.

If it is the remorseless demands of the domestic and Champions League schedule that do for United in the next five days, then Sir Alex Ferguson may well reflect on those lost 13 days in December when United, then on a roll, were left to wait until the snow melted to play again.

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