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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
After a distinctly underwhelming first season in English football, Michael Ballack and Andreiy Shevchenko were derided as hugely expensive flops, but yesterday, they gave Chelsea a real chance of winning their third title in four years. If they do, it will be the most extraordinary and unexpected comeback that I've ever seen. With a brace of goals, Ballack's contribution was clear but, Shevchenko, signed to put the ball in the net, was the hero at the other end for keeping it out, hooking Darren Fletcher's goal-bound header off the line. Between them, they earn approximately SG$750,000 a week. It's looking like money well spent now.

Chelsea, and brace yourself because I haven't said this in a while, were magnificent. In the first half they played at an exhaustive tempo, with width and with desire. The death of Frank Lampard's mother earlier this week seemed to spur them on as a unit and they commemerated her memory after Ballack's first goal by holding up a personalised Chelsea shirt to the crowd. Ballack and Michael Essien, in particular, were hugely influential. United were rattled and struggled all afternoon to hold onto possession. A long-range effort from Nani was their only chance of the first half and Sir Alex Ferguson's selection of a workman-like midfield looked ill-judged. Granted, he had to rest players in the middle of a gruelling week, but he badly missed the creativity of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Scholes.

The league leaders were reeling inside the first ten minutes when they lost Nemanja Vidic to a nasty head injury. With typical courage, the Serbian centre-back stuck his head into the whirling arc of Didier Drogba's legs and took a knee in the face, forcing one of his teeth through his lip. Covered in blood, it seemed that he would be patched up and thrown back on, but as he clambered to his feet, he pitched and swayed like a fishing boat in a gale and then crumpled back to the ground. Without him at the back to partner Rio Ferdinand, United looked vulnerable.

Sir Alex Ferguson may have mellowed in his old age, but I bet there was no tranquility in his dressing room at half-time. The players returned to the pitch, ears still trembling in shock, and were much improved. Wayne Rooney's equaliser may have been the result of a complete meltdown from Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho, but it owed much to Ferguson's decision to push his players up the pitch and pressurise Chelsea into making the mistake.

There were fears that Chelsea were imploding towards the end when Ballack and Didier Drogba fought like cat and dog over the right to take a free-kick. Despite Carvalho's best efforts to break them up the spat continued, even after Drogba had forced a good save from Edwin van der Sar. In the end, as Drogba ranted at his team-mate on the touchline, assistant manager Steve Clarke had to walk onto the pitch and tell him to shut up. Oddly, Drogba wasn't so keen to take the crucial penalty. That was real pressure and he wanted no part of it. Unopposed, Ballack stepped up and even a punter as hopeless as me wouldn't bet against a German scoring from the spot.

I wrote earlier this week about a 1995 syndrome developing at Old Trafford. 13 years ago, it looked like Sir Alex Ferguson was heading for a third successive title, but they were gradually overhauled by Blackburn Rovers, a workman-like side assembled at great expense on the whim of an indulgent multi-millionaire. That year, they lost the title when they dropped points against West Ham. You'll never guess who they play next week. This title race is going all the way to the wire.


Life President
May 29, 2005
I'll be devastated if Chelsea manage to claw their way back to win this... Not that I support United at all, but i'd hate to see a genuine football side, obviously drained of energy at the moment, lose the title to a Chelsea who have hobbled over the line.