EPL 2007-2008: Chelsea 2 – Manchester United 1

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 26th, 2008 • 3:01 pm

It might have been dramatic, but it sure wasn’t pretty. In fact, it really was quite an ugly spectacle.

As a die-hard Arsenal fan, I cannot really claim to be a “neutral.” But the truth is that I dislike both Manchester United and Chelsea almost equally, and much for the same reasons. I can tolerate Manchester United a bit more sometimes, because they do play attractive football at times, but I cannot stand the attitude of players like Rooney and Ronaldo (and van Nistelrooy before them, and Scholes, etc.).

Ronaldo is just so full of himself that it is painful to watch (except of course when he screws up gloriously, as in the missed penalty in mid-week at Barcelona), and Rooney is just a foul-mouthed, foul-tempered twit who happens to have good feet.

That said, in terms of being dislikable, Chelsea probably win the contest, as today’s game proved once again. And nobody does dislikable quite like Didier Drogba. Today’s game could easily have been titled “The Didier Drogba Drama Queen Show.”

It started with Vidic’s injury. Yes, it was probably accidental, and yes, Drogba did display some concern about the well-being of the player after the collision. But did you watch that slow motion replay carefully? Did you see how, immediately after colliding with Vidic’s head, Drogba’s immediate, instinctive reaction was to crumble to the ground in seemingly excruciating pain? It is only once he realized that what had hit his own precious knee was actually Vidic’s face that he corrected his reaction and decided that, after all, his knee didn’t hurt all that much and probably was not injured!

I don’t believe that, in the whole history of football worldwide since the very invention of the game, there can have been a single incident where any player got his knee injured through a collision with another player’s head. I think it is physically quite impossible, that even the toughest jaw or skull is simply no match for an elbow, let alone a knee. Yet Drogba’s instinct was quite obviously to try and make everyone believe that it was possible—until he realized how ridiculous it was. It just says so much about his attitude. As soon as anyone touches any part of his precious body ever so slightly, it has to be a foul, and he has to act like he’s seriously injured. It’s sad, just sad.

Then of course there was the whole Ballack/Drogba subplot. How embarrassing can it be to everyone involved with the club and to the team’s supporters to have the whole wide world witness such a spectacle on the pitch? There are of course big egos in English football these days, and there is a history of ugly confrontations between players from the same team in recent years. I distinctly remember the scene between Bowyer and Dyer at Newcastle a couple of seasons ago, and of course I am not forgetting the confrontation between Adebayor and Bendtner at Tottenham earlier this year.

But this one surely is the most high profile and the most embarrassing of the whole lot. And who else but Didier Drogba to be at the centre of it? How can any neutral spectator have any empathy for the “big family” at Chelsea after witnessing such scenes?

The bottom-line, however, is that they did win, and are now level on points with Manchester United. The Red Devils are still guaranteed to win the title if they win their two remaining games, because of their superior goal difference, but they cannot afford any kind of slip-up. It certainly puts more pressure on them, which they did not need ahead of the return leg of the Champions’ League.

It also means that mathematically, if Arsenal win at Derby on Monday, they still won’t be out of the race. There is of course, no realistic chance of both Chelsea and Manchester United slipping up in a major way in their remaining fixtures, but there still has to be some motivation to finish with the highest possible number of points, if only to prove that the Gunners really went pretty close this year.

Certainly, on the evidence of today’s game at Stamford Bridge, there is no gulf in ability between Arsenal and Chelsea and Manchester United. The football played today—to the extent that any football was played, which is debatable—was really not impressive. It’s just highly unfortunate that the Gunners went through that bad patch after the Birmingham disaster and didn’t recover from it quickly enough. It was a very fine line between success and defeat (or, in that particular case, a succession of draws leading to defeat), and the Gunners ended up on the wrong side of it this year.

But I didn’t see anything today that convinces me that these other two teams were indeed better and “deserved” it more. They are just more adept at turning a footballing contest into big drama, with a stomach-churning blend of bullying, cynicism, theatrics, and referee abuse. If that’s what it takes to be champions this year, then the Gunners should have no regrets, and they should only hope that they can redress the situation by winning with stylish and quality football in the next contest.

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