Tomorrow was supposed to be the Premier League’s big day. League-leading Manchester United at two-time defending champions Chelsea in the second to last game of the season. Rescheduled from April 14th due to both teams having to replay FA Cup quarterfinal ties, this was to be where everything was to be decided. But due to Chelsea’s third straight draw, it’s not to be. Thankfully, in the spirit of charity, Glenn Roeder resigned from Newcastle to give the papers something else to write about instead.
I realize I’m a little late in saying something about United as champions, but don’t chalk it up to any underlying wish to avoid recognizing that fact. They were the best team, and I didn’t even swallow my own tongue writing that sentence (although it was close for a second there). Admittedly, if given no other option, I’d rather Chelsea repeat for a third time than see the trophy paraded around Old Trafford. I don’t really care who has the more aesthetically pleasing football in this situation. I’d rather see 18 other teams other than United (Everton the obvious other) trot around as Premier League winners.
And I don’t want to seem even more begrudging, because lord knows Liverpool was long out of the title race, but this wasn’t very much of a race by the end. Both teams struggled to finish strong, best exemplified by both going out while favored in the semifinals of the Champions League. It’s carried over in the league as well, the aforementioned 3 straight Chelsea draws, but United hasn’t quite peaked to finish the season either. Yes, they’ve ended stronger, and it’s another reason why they’re now champions, but Chelsea did have opportunities to further close the gap; if the Blues had beaten Newcastle when United drew at home to Boro, the tabloids would still be able to sell copy hyping tomorrow’s game. Chelsea dropped the ball, while United stayed consistent enough, and grinded out what was needed; Saturday’s game against City was nothing if not ground out.
But as said, said with hesitancy, but said nonetheless, United deserves their title. They got results in tough games, got results when they weren’t even the better team (yes, I mean at Anfield), and performed at a high level all season, while Chelsea spent most of the winter with Cech, Terry, and Carvalho injured. United also have one of the best young players in the world with Rooney, even if we only saw inconsistent flashes of brilliance, and two of the players of the season as well.
Yes, Ronaldo has been a revelation, and deserves the end of season accolades he’s gotten, but Paul Scholes is the reason United’s coming home with the trophy. They’ve already bought his replacement in Michael Carrick, but Scholes showed Carrick exactly what was required of the position all season long. His return to fitness has added far more creativity and vision in the center of the pitch. Giggs proved last season that he could operate there, but were that the case this season, we’d have seen a lot more of Park and Richardson among others on the wings, and I doubt United’s point total would have been as high. And Scholes has been around so long it’s hard to believe he’s only 32.
The fact that United’s entire backline is in the PFA team of the season is a laugh (both Chelsea and Liverpool have better goals against for one, but more on that another time). Vidic has been vastly improved and Rio’s had far fewer lapses, but I still don’t think either are the best in the league, while Neville’s missed a 1/3rd of the league games and Evra still hasn’t completely adjusted to the Prem (which isn’t a pleasing prospect). But offensively, United’s done more than enough to make up for it, and at a consistent level all season long. Do that, and I can’t do anything but say they’re the deserved champions. Even if said less than willingly, but admittedly, that’s mainly due to loyalties that I refuse to apologize for.
With little to play for now, I’ll be surprised to see many first teamers take the field tomorrow. It’ll be a cagey affair with neither wanting to give away much before the FA Cup final. And as somewhat of a neutral, I fear the FA Cup final isn’t worth being cagey for if the way these two teams have finished the season is any indication.
And yes, to preempt any notions, I understand that your strength in finishing the season means squat in the league if you fail to win in your first 7 away games to start said season. On the other hand, it can be helpful if you want to reach the Champions League final.