Football: Beware United when they start to concentrate

WHILE THE pages of the tabloids have been dominated by the Blair babe and the merits of international footballers staying up late to watch a boxing match, it may have escaped your attention that there is still a Premiership battle going on.

At the half-term stage it seems that Chelsea are on the losing side. Arsenal have been rejuvenated and Manchester United are on autopilot and flying towards inevitable success in some competition or other. But Chelsea sit ninth in the table and, with four losses already in the bag, it would be a very brave pundit who would put his or her money on the Blues for the title.

Just how many of their poor League results can be put down to European distractions is difficult to assess. Their Champions' League performances have been bold encounters with some of the world's best and, when it really counted, they came out on top. Yet it seems that the switch in direction from Milan's San Siro on a Wednesday to Vicarage Road on a Saturday is not something Chelsea have mastered.

Their coach, Gianluca Vialli, has assembled a squad of players who have some of the most decorated CVs in the business, with three World Cup winners and a duo of players who have won the Champions' League twice (Didier Deschamps and Marcel Desailly) regularly gracing his team-sheet. But, whatever the individual merits of the side, the overall effect is of a group of men who are making their first journey together.

Manchester United didn't get it right first time. To be able to lift yourself three days after the glamour of Europe requires real mental toughness. That is not to say that Chelsea are not tough. You can't travel to the intimidating Ali Sami stadium in Istanbul and annihilate the likes of Galatasaray 5-0 without it. If they can find a mental equilibrium, Chelsea's stock will rise.

In contrast, Arsenal seem to be relieved that the mental pressure of the Champions' League has been removed. On Saturday they appeared to breathe a collective sigh of relief and, with Dennis Bergkamp performing like he did against Middlesbrough, they will find it difficult to lose. As we saw in this year's Champions' League, however, they find it very easy to lose when the Dutchman goes walkabout. Having interviewed and met the man only once, I can't claim to be an authority on what makes Dennis tick, but I know he is still desperately disappointed that he didn't make the 1998 FA Cup final. This may seem a bizarre situation, but when it involves a highly rated world talent it simply illustrates that the romance of that competition is not dead despite the fact the holders Manchester United have pulled out.

The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, said after Saturday's result that his team have attained a level of consistency - and, at the moment, that is consistently brilliant. The biggest threat to their current run is the fact they will be losing Nwankwo Kanu to international duties in the New Year, but they have the cover to still compete effectively in both the FA Cup or League.

Manchester United may well be crowned world club champions by the end of January, but where do they go from there? It will take a great manager to motivate them in their remaining domestic and European competitions, and as luck would have it they have one of those. Then again they may come home from Brazil empty handed, and without a place in the FA Cup.

To most of us United seem to be cruising at the moment. Despite their goalkeeping disruptions they are top of the Premiership and seem to have a straightforward passage to the quarter-finals of the Champions' League. The European competition should force United to raise their game a gear and, as they proved last season, that could be bad news for the rest of the Premiership.

Finally, David O'Leary's glinting Irish eyes have metamorphosised into the steely expression donned by managers who win things. Despite his guarded interviews and unwillingness to commit to the possibility of taking the title this year, his players are more forthcoming. As Sir Alex Ferguson discovered a few years ago youngsters do win things. With only the distraction of a European competition that doesn't put intensive demands upon them, the kids could come good.

The dress can be seen in different colours

Life and Style
Divers at Bouldnor Cliff underwater site in the Solent off the Isle of Wight, where the silt sample containing the einkorn DNA was found
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Ventilation Cleaning Operative

£15600 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower