It feels odd to be saying it, but United’s emerging charge to the Premiership crown is a good thing, because it could do us a number of favours in our quest to overhaul Villa and get into the Champions League – the fixtures fall in such a way that seriously benefits us if the league picture is decided ahead of time.
Villa have just played and lost to a Chelsea side still feeling their league games to have importance – it is too early to write themselves off or consider their position in the top four safe. Trips to Anfield and Old Trafford are coming up for Villa, with neither match coming close to any Champions League game. Both with be tricky for Martin O’Neill’s side, as they are likely to face full strength teams.
You might argue that this is hardly a problem for them, given that we still have to face Chelsea in addition to Liverpool and United. But crucially, we play those three fixtures far later in the season, at a time when the league could well be decided, leaving our opponents to rest players for the Champions League.
Our trip to Anfield comes three days after the crucial quarter final second leg, and Chelsea come to the Emirates three days after the semi. United are our penultimate opponents, and if they maintain their current lead (as seems likely), they will have lifted the Premiership trophy by then. If English dominance continues in the Champions League, and United are flying towards the title, do you really think even our rivals will field strong sides?
Liverpool have a history of resting players for the Champions League, United are seeking an unprecedented number of trophies and won’t want to jeopardise it, while Abramovich craves the Champions League above all others.
Our run-in looks horrendous on paper, with three huge opponents in our final six games. But it wouldn’t surprise me if O’Neill was the one calling foul at the end of the season, with weakened sides helping us finish strongly. I’m sure the irony of him taking a shadow side to Moscow this week would be lost on him.
Yeah, I’m still optimistic.