Should Manchester United beat Wigan by 1-0 tomorrow, Avram Grant's Chelsea team will have to beat Bolton Wanderers 18-0 to overhaul their rivals' superior goal difference and take the Premier League title on goals scored. So, on the brink of the defining weekend, it was no surprise that the Chelsea manager yesterday called for a change to the rules under which the title would be decided by a play-off between the two teams tied on points rather than goal difference.
United's goals scored – currently 78 to Chelsea's 64 – could ultimately be the deciding factor in the title race, aptly making it all come down to which team had the more attacking verve over the season. Attacking football has been the mantra for Grant since he took over the reins from Jose Mourinho in September, although even he cannot have envisaged just how crucial it would prove in the final reckoning.
Grant said yesterday that he encouraged his players to go for broke against the League's whipping boys Derby County at home in March. At the time his substitutions baffled the players, as he brought off Michael Ballack, Claude Makelele and Joe Cole, but Grant claimed that it was done in order to improve his goal difference. At 5-1 up when the substitutions were made, Chelsea only added one more. "We won 6-0, 6-1, 4-0 and 3-0 and when you miss so many players [through injury], the first target is to win games, especially in the beginning," he said. "I must admit that United have played very good football. They think this is the best season since Alex Ferguson came. We've played attractive football. You can't push a button and change things immediately. We've won many games playing attractive football. We can change it with the players we have here."
In fact, Grant even cited the rules of Italy's Serie A to support his case for a change. He mistakenly said that, should the two top clubs there be tied on points, they had a play-off. In fact, since the 2006-07 season, Serie A's rules have changed – if the top two are level on points, then it is their head-to-head record that decides. In the event of Chelsea and United being tied come tomorrow, had the Premier League adopted those rules, United would take the title.
Nevertheless, Grant was in the kind of mood yesterday that suggested he believes he will keep his job no matter what happens tomorrow or in the Champions League final on 21 May. He joked about Ferguson's attempts to wind up the Bolton players and claimed he would be sharing a "good bottle of Israeli wine" with the Scot before the Champions League final. Although claiming the title tomorrow would be the greatest achievement in his career, Grant said that he was not nervous about the prospect of winning a match that could mean so much.
"What will be, will be," he said. "After any game we can feel that we could have done this better or that. But it can't all be perfect. We've been playing the best football in the last month, at the right time against really big teams and big managers." He dodged the question of whether tomorrow would be Didier Drogba's last game for Chelsea in the league, although he was not very convincing.
His assertion that "tactics are very important, but it's only one part of many things in football – it's not the main thing" might alarm some. Especially those who thought replacing Frank Lampard with Andrei Shevchenko in the last few minutes against Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final second leg was an unusual choice. But if he was nervous, the Chelsea manager was not showing it.
Taking it to the wire: Last day finishes
*1923-24 Huddersfield took the title on goal average after beating Nottm Forest 3-0, as leaders Cardiff could only draw 0-0 at Birmingham. Under today's goal difference ruling, Cardiff would have won the title.
*1967-68 The last time two sides began the final day level on points. Manchester City edged out neighbours United with a 4-3 victory at Newcastle.
*1994-95 Blackburn lifted the trophy despite a 2-1 defeat at Liverpool, as Man United could only manage a 1-1 draw at West Ham.
*1998-99 The last final-day finish. Man United beat Spurs 2-1 to pip Arsenal to the title by a single point.Reuse content