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Rediff.com  » Sports » Blues in store for Arsenal, Man Utd

Blues in store for Arsenal, Man Utd

May 16, 2005 12:42 IST

Sunday's action ended a Premier League season in which the real power in England moved to Chelsea, irrespective of who wins next weekend's FA Cup final between Arsenal and Manchester United.

Manager Jose Mourinho has vindicated his self-appointed tag of being "the special one", guiding Chelsea to their first title in 50 years by a whopping margin and pulling off a League Cup final victory over Liverpool.

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Had the Merseysiders not exacted revenge in their Champions League semi-final second leg at Anfield, Chelsea would now be fancying their chances of adding the European Cup in Istanbul against AC Milan in 10 days' time.

Mourinho's attention to detail and Roman Abramovich's willingness to spend half a billion dollars since the Russian tycoon bought Chelsea in July 2003 have proved an almost unbeatable combination.

On the pitch, Chelsea had an astonishing defensive record with just 15 goals conceded over a league campaign in which they suffered just one defeat.

Captain John Terry, voted player of the year by his fellow professionals, marshalled that defence while midfielder Frank Lampard, the football writers' player of the year, finished as the club's top scorer.

Not only did the England pair's consistency make for a remarkable centenary year in west London, but their performances are also some guarantee for next season.

Should Chelsea manage to sign a centre forward capable of scoring over 20 league goals a season, United and Arsenal may as well throw in the towel for another year.

Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba may yet justify his club record investment of 24 million pounds ($44.5 million) but arguably the greater threats were posed by wingers Arjen Robben and Damien Duff.

MIDFIELD SUPPORT

Statistics certainly show the importance of midfield support for any title bid.

For the past four seasons, the Premier League has been won by the club with the highest-scoring midfielder -- Lampard in 2005, Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg of Arsenal in 2004 and 2002 and Paul Scholes of Manchester United in 2003.

Looking ahead, Chelsea will be able to draw on everything they have learned in their first season under Mourinho, particularly when it comes to grinding out 1-0 wins. They managed 13 in all competitions.

However, they are likely to face more determined challenges next time from Arsenal and United.

Arsenal's title hopes faded with a mid-season dip in form, but they finished strongly enough to be runners-up and can point to a handful of exciting youngsters.

Spanish central midfielder Francesc Fabregas, who only turned 18 earlier this month, was outstanding in his first season, defender Philippe Senderos has kept Sol Campbell on the subs bench and Dutchman Robin Van Persie and Spain's Jose Antonio Reyes were tantalising though erratic up front.

Arsene Wenger's side celebrated a new unbeaten record of 49 matches but their 50th game, a numbing 2-0 defeat at United in October, proved their downfall in more ways than one.

Wenger, whose men made a typically unconvincing foray into the Champions League, told reporters earlier this month: "It took time to recover from that huge disappointment.

"We got six points from the next six games and Chelsea took 16. That's where we lost the championship."

SLOW START

United's own bid never really got going after a slow start and a prophetic 1-0 defeat at Chelsea on the opening day. By the time United had reached their maximum cruising speed in mid-season, Chelsea were already too far ahead to be caught.

In Europe, all hopes of repeating United's 1999 Champions League triumph were dashed by consecutive 1-0 defeats by AC Milan. To rub salt in the wounds, both goals were scored by a player on loan from Chelsea, Hernan Crespo.

The 27-million-pound capture of Wayne Rooney from Everton proved their best move of the season, with the extravagantly talented teenager becoming United's top scorer.

Manager Alex Ferguson will rightly expect Rooney to be an even greater threat next season and strike partner Ruud Van Nistelrooy to be more fortunate with injuries after he was struck down by an Achilles problem in November.

The Dutchman's three-month layoff was followed by a two-month goal drought.

More difficult to predict is the fallout from United's near 800 million pound capture by US tycoon Malcolm Glazer.

For the rest of the ever more polarised Premier League, 2004-05 was all about Europe and survival.

Everton, who avoided relegation by one place in 2003-04 and went on to lose Rooney last August, achieved a remarkable fourth-placed finish under David Moyes which has booked them into the Champions League qualifiers.

Arch-rivals Liverpool will have to settle for the UEFA Cup, unless they manage the double feat of winning the club's fifth European Cup and persuading UEFA to bend the rules and give England an extra place in the Champions League qualifiers.

Bolton Wanderers will also be in Europe, for the first time, along with Middlesbrough, while second division football awaits Crystal Palace, Southampton and Norwich City after dramatic final day in the drop zone saw West Bromwich Albion escape.

Trevor Huggins
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