Chelsea's second Premiership title is now just one point away and while they can seal it against Manchester United on 29 April, Jose Mourinho, said yesterday that his side have nothing left to prove against Sir Alex Ferguson's team. His match winner Frank Lampard said that victory over United would be all the "sweeter", but for the Chelsea manager the argument is as good as settled.
After United beat Tottenham 2-1 at White Hart Lane in the lunchtime kick-off, Ferguson argued that the season was still "bubbling away". When Chelsea responded with a 3-0 destruction of Everton, Mourinho said that he did not care which club his team beat to win the title, just as long as they made sure of defending their trophy. Even though United beat Chelsea on 6 November at Old Trafford, Mourinho said he was not seeking revenge and winning the Premiership would be enough to prove the point that his side were the best in the country.
"Most important is to finish the season in front of them," Mourinho said. "The best team wins the league. It is 10 months, 38 matches it is not about luck or refereeing mistakes or a ball that hit the post or players being suspended. It is 10 months and the best team wins. If we win the title at the end of the season then I am happy."
There were goals from Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Essien to restore Chelsea's lead to nine points with three matches remaining and their goal difference, 12 better than United's, is worth a point in itself. United had earlier beaten Tottenham with two goals from Wayne Rooney that meant that settling the title will have to wait until after the FA Cup semi-finals this weekend.
While Mourinho professed indifference to when the title race would be concluded, Ferguson said that his team would go to Stamford Bridge with something still at stake, although only the most optimistic football romantics among his club's supporters would say that was anything but pride.
"It will be a fantastic game and we need to make that second spot," Ferguson said. "Hopefully, we can achieve that. It keeps the fans interested and keeps everybody at the club interested and keeps the season bubbling away. There are times when you have the title sewn up and there is a bit of complacency about the place.
"We have been playing very well. That was probably our poorest performance in the last 12 games. I heard Martin Jol on the radio saying on Saturday that it was probably a good time to play us and I thought, 'Oh, really?'"
The worst United performance in the last 12 games, most would argue, was the goalless draw with Sunderland on Friday night that allowed Chelsea to close in on the title. Ryan Giggs echoed his manager's sentiments when he said that United would continue to push Chelsea until the very end. "We have to concentrate on our job," Giggs said. "Come the Chelsea game there is now still something riding on it."
The defeat for Tottenham, for whom Jermaine Jenas scored, leaves them four points ahead of Arsenal in the race for the fourth Champions' League place. Arsenal have a game in hand and the two clubs face each other at Highbury on Saturday in a match that could have a good deal more resting on it than Chelsea's meeting with United.
So what now? Final countdown
* ALMOST THERE Chelsea need only one point from their remaining three games to win their second consecutive Premiership title - which means that anything less than a Manchester United victory when the two sides meet at Stamford Bridge at the end of the month will give Jose Mourinho's men the added pleasure of parading the trophy in front of their closest rivals. And even if United were to prevail at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea would still have visits to Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United to gain the extra point they need, while United would have to avoid any slip-ups.
* CHELSEA'S RUN-IN Saturday 29 April 12.30 Manchester United (H)
Tuesday 2 May 8.0
Blackburn Rovers (A)
Sunday 7 May 3.0
Newcastle United (A)
* UNITED'S RUN-IN Saturday 29 April 12.30
Monday 1 May 8.0
Sunday 7 May 3.0
Charlton Athletic (H)Reuse content