Chelsea visits Manchester United on Saturday for what is being billed as the critical match in this year's Premiership title race. And though both teams have at least one game to follow that will further test their mettle -- United has yet to visit neighbor City; Chelsea travels to Tottenham in two weeks and goes to Anfield to face Liverpool on the penultimate weekend of the season -- this is certainly the game that could put some daylight between the two.
With just a point between first and second -- and Arsenal only three points back in third -- with six games left, the top of the table is tight enough to have prompted Premier League chief executive
We've managed 147 years of Association Football without a playoff, so it is unlikely to become a reality. But it is perhaps a measure of how little there is to choose between this season's contenders that the idea has even been addressed. Both United and Chelsea have looked more fallible than usual, each losing as many matches by February as they typically drop in entire seasons (11 combined losses so far). The names of some of their vanquishers -- Burnley, Wigan -- have surprised as much as the results. Even so, both teams have also put on some impressive displays: 48 of United's 76 goals have gone unanswered, and 39 of Chelsea's 82.
The outcome of Saturday's match gets even harder to forecast when you factor in the regularity with which both managers alter their lineups. Sir
Ferguson's defensive midfield selection in the 2-1 Champions League defeat at Bayern Munich on Tuesday did not work well at all; Bayern bypassed the central three --
Without the ball,
Having watched United lose to Bayern in such unexpected fashion, Ancelotti could feel that his side, still skipping from that scintillating 7-1 win over Villa, has a psychological advantage. But managers who suggest that a loss like the one United suffered in the Champions League will affect its performance in a key league game are usually guilty of political levels of bluff and bluster. Chelsea was eight points clear of United earlier in the season, a memory that will linger, and if you believe former player
A United victory would convince most at Old Trafford that the title is theirs to keep this year; a Chelsea win would put the Blues back into a slender lead. But despite the match's box-office appeal, the sky-high stakes will encourage not a must-win attitude but a must-not-lose approach, which means a draw is entirely possible.