April 21, 2015

Chelsea gets defensive on road to title

by Dan Bilicki In: Soccer

Saturday’s big matchup between Chelsea and Manchester United proved what we have known for a while now: The Blues are the best team in the Premier League.

Jose Mourinho’s strategy to play defensively, with Kurt Zouma in midfield beside Nemanja Matic, played out exactly how he wanted it to.

Chelsea set out to defend and that’s just what it did. It knew that all it would take is a moment of brilliance from one of its attackers and it got just that from Eden Hazard, who’s on the shortlist when discussing player of the year contenders.

United had a decided advantage in possession, but it didn’t matter. The league leaders never buckled, keeping a clean sheet against the Red Devils.

While Mourinho’s lineup choices made sense and played out well, the same can’t be said for Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman had Wayne Rooney start the game in a deep-lying role just front of the back four. This is the spot where you usually see Michael Carrick, but the veteran wasn’t fit for the game.

In fact, the injury bug took a big bite out of the United lineup this week, with several key players sitting – but that’s par for the course it seems this season.

Now, with a 10-point lead over Arsenal, we’re quickly approaching an official coronation, not just a champions elect tag.

AROUND THE LEAGUE

Man City got back into the win column in style, dominating West Ham. If only we saw that effort in recent weeks, the champs wouldn’t be so far off the pace and potentially looking for a new manager … Speaking of new managers, you have to think that City is going to look long and hard at Jurgen Klopp, who is leaving Borussia Dortmund after the season … What has gotten into Leicester? Oh yeah, the fear of relegation. The Foxes are now third from bottom and are just a mere goal away from safety on differential. This is their third win in a row, something it hasn’t done in the top flight since 2000… With another loss, you have to figure that there will be some big changes at Newcastle in the summer. The Magpies have struggled since Alan Pardew happily packed his bags and went to Crystal Palace … With the FA Cup semis at Wembley, we had a fixture shortage this week, with three teams getting a week off. Must be nice for the scheduled opponents of Arsenal, Aston Villa and Liverpool to get this little break so late in the season. Although, a double gameweek is much more fun for fantasy players than the real ones.

THE LAST WORD

You really have to feel bad for Steven Gerrard: His fairytale farewell story has been spoiled.

With the FA Cup final set to be played on the Liverpool legend’s birthday, it seemed the script had been written for the long-time captain to hoist the trophy before riding off to Los Angeles.

Well, in a twist fit for Hollywood, Stevie G will be watching the final from his coach this year.

Liverpool couldn’t shut down the suddenly great Aston Villa, which is now set for a date with Arsenal.

Villa has been on a nice run since bringing on Tim Sherwood and Christian Benteke – who scored again this week – has been a stellar run of form as well.

The Reds now only have their Europa League spot to play for, and you know that Brendan Rodgers might not be too thrilled with clinching another season of Thursday night fixtures in Eastern Europe.

It’s hard to see them putting up maximum effort with so little on the line in the final run of games.

As for the Gunners, you have to applaud them for showing some resolve and grit for not collapsing when Championship side Reading really put the pressure on.

This has been a common theme for Arsene Wenger’s men recently and shows that the side is finally growing a pair after being known as a bit of a wimp recently.

Follow me on Twitter @danbilicki

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