Chelsea in seventh heaven, and my money's going on blue not red for the title
SO who’ll bet against Chelsea to win the Premier League now with the season down to the final two games? The whole world appeared to dash down to the bookmakers last week to put their recession-proof cash on Manchester United.
They might as well have put it on Emmanuel Eboue to become Prime Minister on May 6, as some bored Arsenal fans were suggesting on posters during yesterday's awful 0-0 draw with Manchester City.
Chelsea may have slipped up against in-form Spurs last week but they were unstoppable against Stoke City today, cantering home 7-0 despite the absence of suspended captain John Terry.
Afterwards, stand-in skipper Frank Lampard grinned: “Seven? That's a fair scoreline really! We were very concentrated on what we wanted to do."
But looking ahead to the visit to Anfield next Saturday, he added more seriously: "The Liverpool game’s definitely tough. Liverpool are always tough for us. They’re going to want to finish the season strong. We were very concentrated on what we wanted to do."
Though strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka failed to score, Lampard struck twice, taking his tally to 20 League goals again this season. Asked how he does it, Lampard laughed: "It's all down to hard work. I try to arrive and score important goals for the team."
Salomon Kalou, after his first Chelsea hat-trick, said: “We have to keep winning. Today we did well, 7-0 is a great result. I am always ready to give my best. We know we have to work hard to finish champion.”
Coach Carlo Ancelotti, never one to blow his trumpted too loud, said: “For this I am happy. We played for 90 minutes today. Goal difference is not important for us this season, but we have 93 goals in the Premier League this season.
“Liverpool is very difficult, very important. We are very close to the title. It is in our hands. Liverpool are a fantastic team, they are involved in fourth place, we are in first. But to decide our own destiny is a good thing.”
United needed a late, late header from pint-sized Paul Scholes to claim three points against neighbours City last week but yesterday they saw off Tottenham 3-1 to end Harry Redknapp’s dream of beating the top three in successive games (and possibly, the club's first-ever Champions League qualification).
Ryan Giggs, taking the first and second penalties of an 18-year Premier League career, was on the spot to complement a superb finish from Nani, one of several United players seen throwing up during the game.
Sir Alex Ferguson said afterwards: “There were a few players who had some kind of sickness bug which didn’t help us. But the main thing is we are to of the table with two games left.”
But of course, by 5.45pm today, they were no longer looking down on the other 19 clubs and they were all sick as parrots.
Chelsea had, as expected, won their game in hand over one-dimensional Stoke leaving United - a point behind with a now vastly inferior goal-difference - needing help from arch-rivals Liverpool next week to reclaim their title.
Sure, Fergie loves the psychology in these situations. He said after the win over Spurs: “I hope you feel the pressure now,” and he would have loved hearing Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti admitting on Friday how upset his side were to see Scholes’s late winner last week.
Ancelotti told us: “We will not watch United play Spurs, perhaps we will go and see a film like Clash of the Titans, I hear it is very good.”
Whether they went to the movies or watched the lesser clash of titans at Old Trafford yesterday, Chelsea appeared untroubled by United’s ability to succeed without the crocked Wayne Rooney.
And the good news for Ivory Coast fans before the World Cup is that Didier Drogba appears to be bothered again. For the last couple of weeks, Chelsea’s top scorer has looked off the pace... he may not have got on the lengthy score-sheet today but he made four and looked something akin to a world-class striker again.
By half-time, their clash with Stoke was about damage limitation for the visitors, who go to Manchester United for their last game on May 9. United’s other game? Mid-table Sunderland next Saturday. Chelsea travel to Liverpool on Saturday and finish at relegated Hull on May 9.
Chelsea went in 3-0 up at half-time with Kalou scoring the first two and Frank Lampard adding a penalty. Kalou made it 4-0 and completed his first Blue hat-trick after 67 minutes and Lampard scored his second, Chelsea's fifth, with nine minutes left.
Daniel Sturridge then produced his first Chelsea goal before Florent Malouda finally got one to make it seven and ensure Chelsea's biggest win since May 1963, when they beat Portsmouth by the same margin.
Liverpool next week will be a slightly sterner test – Rafa Benitez’s men put Burnley down with a 4-0 thrashing today – but as I said yesterday on Sky News, my money’s on the Blues who will hardly lack confidence after today's efforts.
With Rooney apparently out for the rest of the campaign with a gluteal strain – or as some might put it, a pain in the Arsenal – United will have their work cut out but from where I sit, Chelsea are in pole position with only a small red cloud on the horizon.
And Drogba, one behind Rooney's 26 goals in the scoring charts, will snatch the golden boot too, unless Kalou keeps hogging the goals. Given Malouda's unbelievable miss in the 72nd minute yesterday - a miscued side-foot effort from about three inches - Drogba will certainly get the chances.
As for Rooney's ability to recuperate before the World Cup... we'll save that little gem for another day.