Chelsea All But Claim Title As Liverpool Let Manchester Utd Down. Badly
THEY think it's all over. Barring a miracle, it is now. Chelsea have won the Premier League title, ripping the trophy from Manchester United with an all-too-easy 2-0 win over limp Liverpool at Anfield. So much for Sir Alex Ferguson's great psychological attempt to win up the Reds this week.
Next Sunday, Wigan head to Stamford Bridge as extras in Carlo Ancelotti's coronation. Of course, if the lowly Latics were to get a result, the race would open up again. But that's about as likely as the world's No1 snooker player being filmed taking money in the Ukraine to lose frames.
Which is exactly what happened this morning, according to the New of the World. But I digress. It isn't going to happen.
Manchester United go to their old captain Steve Bruce's Sunderland later today, where another comfortable win is expected. They've got Stoke in their final game next Sunday, but even a second easy win will do them no good.
The days when lowly sides with nowt to play for grabbed unexpected points at this crucial stage of the season appear to be behind us. Back in 1995, Liverpool beat Blackburn on the final day in front of a silent Anfield. That opened things up for hated rivals United, but they failed to take advantage against an equally determined West Ham.
Sir Alex, striving to rouse the Reds after their Europa Cup semi-final exit at the hands of Atletico Madrid last Thursday, talked about "the proud traditions of Liverpool." And told Rafa Benitez is was his job "to rouse the players for one last effort". Benitez appears to have other matters on his mind. Like his next job.
Sadly, Liverpool's proud tradition now appears to be merely to annoy United rather than take them on at their own game. The Champions League and fourth place is now beyond them. Rafa is apparently off to Juventus, post-operative Fernando Torres watched what could be his last Liverpool game from the sidelines, and Steve Gerrard - also rumoured to want-away - blundered with an horrendous back pass for Didier Drogba's opening goal.
Sad, sad times for Liverpool, great days for Chelsea, who can now do more than contemplate their first ever domestic double... with Portsmouth to come in the FA Cup final on 15 May, they can taste it.
As a contest, Liverpool v Chelsea disappointed on all fronts. It wasn't as if Chelsea started like Champions-elect. While the Championship's final games were being played around the nation, with Crystal Palace condemning Sheffield Wednesday to relegation amid frightening scenes, this was a damp squib. Liverpool did exactly what their "Anything But United" fans wanted.
Vaguely competitive for the first half-hour, it was two minutes past three when Gerrard, under huge pressure off the field, made his wonder blunder. Reminiscent of his backpass to Thierry Henry when England played France a few years ago, he simply picked out Drogba and the damage was done.
Referee Alan Wiley turned down to huge Chelsea penalty appeals - the second one, listless Lucas bringing down Salomon Kalou - really got the Blue blood pumping.
But all that meant nothing when Frank Lampard scored his 21st League goal of the season in the second half, sliding in on Nicolas Anelka's cross ten minutes into the second half.
Chelsea will be flying home while United play Sunderland, so they won't know if they've won the title until they land in London. Drogba said afterwards: "We've waited for this moment for a long time, but we will probably have to win our last game.
"Gerrard made a big mistake, but he didn't do it on purpose. It was a big win for us."
Gerrard's close friend Jamie Carragher, analysing for Sky, said: "He's done it a few times in his career. It's lazy play from Gerrard. I know what the conspiracy theorists will be saying. But I just don't think this Liverpool team is good enough.
"Rafa looks like a manager who doesn't want to be there anymore. You live and die by your signings and he hasn't made quite enough good signings in his five years. To not even finish fourth is a big thing.
"The two crown jewels, Torres and Gerrard, will be looking at this. I don't know if they'll be there at the end of the summer. That would be a disaster, Liverpool fans deserve better than that."
Lampard, voted Man of the Match, said: "I won't say we've got one hand on the trophy, but this was a huge win for us. We couldn't drop points or United would have taken advantage.
"The Liverpool fans got behind their team, but it was nice when they clapped us off at the end, that could be about United."
Boss Ancelotti. headed for the title in his first season, said: "Fantastic result, we are very happy. But we may have to wait until the last game. We have to think about the last game.
"This was a difficult step against Liverpool at Anfield, but we did tactically very well. We are waiting, we are in a very good situation."
Pulled back by assistant Ray Wilkins after the big penalty decision, he said: "I lost my control, but after that it was good. I kept good control of my emotions.
"To win the Premier League in my first season would make me very happy. We have worked for 10 months, my players always maintain a good atmosphere in training. But we always said this Premier League will be decided in the last game and I think that will be so."
Sir Alex, talking before the Sunderland game, said: "It's hard to expect them to win against Chelsea. It's not the result we wanted. But there's nothing we can do about it.
"My players will get the vibes from the Sunderland fans. You can't always win everything. But if we win today, we can take it to the final game. But that was an opportunity. Going to Anfield is usually a hard game. But not today."