Once again, it has come down to this. Just like in 2008, Little Wigan find themselves with an opportunity to have a big say in where the title goes on the final day of the season, embarking upon a 200-odd mile trip to London in a bid to usurp Chelsea’s dominant position at the head of the table.
This time, however, things are going to be far more difficult, because of injuries to important players but also, perhaps most tellingly, because Chelsea are such a formidable force when in full flow – just ask Stoke City. Not that Manchester United of a few years ago weren’t, even if they left it later than they would have liked to clinch the Premier League at the then-JJB Stadium.
As we have seen, though, no side is completely infallible. It may seem Chelsea have nine and a half fingers on the fabled trophy — which isn’t quite as historically significant as the FA Cup, but a recognisable item in the world of football nevertheless — but you need only cast your mind back to September 2009 for an example of a major upset in this contest. By which I mean tiny Wigan beating gigantic Chelsea.
Sure, that particular David vs. Goliath showdown was at the JJB and not a hostile Stamford Bridge as it will be tomorrow. And there was no title at stake. And you could say Latics had the rub of the green that day, which certainly helped our cause. All of which points to a more comfortable day for Chelsea as they cruise to 2010 Premier League victory.
Not necessarily. Even though Wigan will most likely be fielding a weakened side (out of necessity rather than choice, mind) you never really do know in this variously magnificent and flawed sport we call football (or vutbal, if you’re Carlo Ancelotti). Few would have predicted Wigan wins over Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Chelsea, especially with such an inexperienced manager and the club in transition, yet all four would become reality before the season was out. There is some hope for Manchester United fans.
However, from a personal viewpoint, I really cannot see anything other than a Chelsea win tomorrow afternoon. I mean, I’m always hopeful Latics can grab something – and a point away from home would be a wonderful result for an understrength side off the back of a lukewarm draw with relegated Hull City – but unlike with Liverpool and Arsenal earlier in the campaign, there isn’t the impetus that fighting relegation gives a side.
That said, of all the accusations you could throw the way of Roberto Martinez, one thing you can’t call him is defensive. Yes, he has had his moments of negativity on the pitch, but on the whole he has looked to remain attacking; it’s just the current playing staff, bless them, have been largely incapable of pulling off his ambitious tactics week after week, Arsenal ‘The Invincibles’ style.
Again, not that there’s anything wrong with ambition or even many of the players’ efforts, and those that haven’t been up to scratch have been, or are in the process of being, shipped out.
Manchester United fans need not lose all hope just yet. If Vladimir Stojkovic can somehow find the performance of his life, then the remaining Latics non-crocks will all be aware they are in the shop window like never before. And if you can’t get yourself geed up for that you might as well go and play for Hindley Town or something.