There is nothing worse for a fan than to see your season petering out into nothing. Football is all about the drama, the twists and turns, evident in every second of last night’s dramatic 4-4 draw between Liverpool and Chelsea. Championship chases, relegation scraps, tight cup ties – this is what the latter stages of a season are all about.
Over the past few years we’ve had a couple of seasons that were over by mid March. Out of all cup competitions and neither challenging for the league or in danger of being usurped from a Champions League place, those years ended in apathy, counting down the days until it all began again.
This year, however, we’re in a completely different position, and to be fair, we’re not the only ones. The Premiership is close at top and bottom, and now that we have a decent gap over Villa, you could say we’re one of the only clubs without something to play for there. Or at least you could, if three of our last six games weren’t against the top three.
But assuming we don’t capitulate domestically as Villa have recently, our main focus is now on winning trophies, and that means the FA Cup and, tonight, the Champions League. Both are set up beautifully.
I’ll cover the FA Cup in more detail in the next few days (other than fuming that it is once again on Setanta, the one channel I don’t have), but suffice to say any match against Chelsea has potential to be a cracker, and with Cech in such appalling form (seriously, he was barely recognisable last night), and our defence suffering injury problems, it may be more expansive than normal.
But Saturday can wait. First up, we have Villareal, with the tie is nicely poised at 1-1. It is widely accepted that we’re in the driving seat, but we’ve been here before (Chelsea a few years ago) and lost – as soon as the away goal is cancelled out the tension mounts enormously. We need to be positive and decide that to progress, we have to win the match. Because I think we do, realistically.
Defensively, Wenger has to choose between Gibbs at left back, or switching one of Silvestre or Sagna there, while further forward, the returning Diaby is another option if we play a five man midfield. Personally, I hope we revert to 4-4-2, with Van Persie and Adebayor both starting up front. At home, we tend to be more effective that way.
Three hours to go, and I’m getting tense – we could get through tonight and face a Porto side that we destroyed at the Emirates in the group stages. But I have a sneaking suspicion United will put in a performance tonight and get through, so I’m predicting three English clubs and Barcelona in the semis. Which sums up the competition this year – all along Barcelona have been the only real threat to a Premiership team lifting the trophy.
Wherever you are, enjoy the game. I have a feeling it’ll be a good one.