The Sporting Week Ahead (05/02/2012)


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The Independent Online


What used to be the annual Premier League title-decider between Chelsea and Manchester United could be different today. United might be stagnating, but Chelsea are rotting rapidly: radically worse at every discipline than they were last season. For the first time in years United should be favourites in their least favourite corner of SW6. Super Bowl XLVI is a title-decider, by definition. Contrast the New England Patriots' 21st Century hegemony and mythic regional status with the New York Giants' big-city glamour and fame and it's essentially the same narrative as the contest at Stamford Bridge.


After the haunting trauma of the stoppage-time defeat at Manchester City, the Tottenham circus goes on to Anfield. They will not be facing Mario Balotelli, who cleaned his studs on Scott Parker's hair before scoring the penalty two weeks ago. However, Luis Suarez is back from his ban, and his blend of gentlemanly conduct and serene finishing could produce similar results.


Birmingham fans might complain that they are badly run and losing key players, that things are not as good as they used to be: until they host Portsmouth, and realise reliability is a relative term when it comes to owners.


India must welcome the chance to face the same opponents, Australia, in the same format, as their famous World Cup final win 10 months ago. Since then it has been humiliation upon humiliation; as if a year's supply of competence has been exhausted.


European champions Leinster are strolling rugby union's Pro12 so far, and hope to continue their dominance against Treviso. Losing the heart of their team to Ireland's Six Nations push is likely to be more of a concern than any complacency.


Ospreys, as ever, are the most plausible challengers to the Irish dominance of the Pro12, although they will be rather one-handed in Edinburgh.


Expect welcoming banners and tickertape for Luis Suarez at Old Trafford when United entertain Liverpool. It is always nice to swiftly return a favour of hosting, particularly within a fortnight of a last-minute elimination from the FA Cup.