Whose title is it anyway?

Trevor Steven
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FRANK LAMPARD’S winner on Tuesday could prove the turning point of the season, although I fancy there may be a few more over the next four weeks.

We’re entering the decisive phase of the campaign for anyone with title aspirations, and every point gained or dropped now is vital. Results in other competitions could also have a huge bearing on the momentum and belief of the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, the two main contenders.

Manchester City are still on the fringes of the fight, but I think Chelsea’s revival has come too late to retain their trophy and waning Tottenham are also too far adrift; their concern is with finishing in the top four.


They might not have thrilled us like they have in the past, but they have been more consistent than anyone else and deserve to be top. Their greatest strengths this season have been an excellent goalkeeper in Edwin van der Sar, a superb defence marshalled by Nemanja Vidic and a lively attack led by Dimitar Berbatov and Nani. With Wayne Rooney now showing signs of recovering form, that’s enough to see them through. Perhaps most importantly of all, though, they have been in this position before so many times and Sir Alex Ferguson knows just what to do to steer them to title No19.

The one aspect of the team that has failed to shine this year has been the midfield. They are well-stocked and Ferguson has been able to rotate, but perhaps so much that they lack continuity. If they win the league it will be despite the midfield, not because of it. Vidic is suspended now and they cannot afford to lose him for any longer with Rio Ferdinand injured, too Sunday’s trip to Liverpool is massive and one they can’t afford to lose; going into the run-in off the back of two defeats would be a seismic blow.


United’s defeat at Stamford Bridge will have done wonders for Arsenal’s belief that they can win this, and the fixture list also looks to be on their side for the rest of the run-in, with a number of games in which Ferguson’s men could drop points. The Gunners have been consistent, especially since Christmas – although I always feel they are capable of a crazy result – and there is no question they have a squad brimming with talent that can beat any opponent.

Sunday’s Carling Cup final defeat exposed that soft underbelly again and raised more doubts about the strength of the spine of the team. Injuries to Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott, as well as the fragility of Cesc Fabregas, hit them hard; they seem to be worse affected when they lose players than their rivals. Winning that trophy would have given them some breathing space; now I’m worried that the Barcelona return leg next week will prove a distraction when they meet Sunderland at the weekend in a game they simply have to win. Beating Barca could reignite their campaign but I fear losing will devastate them.


Roberto Mancini’s expensively assembled troupe of megastars are real outsiders, but could fight their way back into the race if they put a winning run together in the next month. The Italian certainly has the talent at his disposal; that squad is deep enough and possesses sufficient threat to beat anyone below or above them. In particular, Carlos Tevez and David Silva are crucial to them, so the more they are involved the better, although there is top quality cover in every position.

I worry about the togetherness of City’s group. When Mario Balotelli scored at the weekend no one ran to celebrate with him; that’s a bad sign. Team spirit is essential and a hallmark of the best sides; if City lack that, as it seems, that could prove a major hindrance. The flipside of having a big squad is that there are a lot of egos, and they all want to play: this is not good for morale. I think they’ve got a top four place pretty sewn up, but a title challenge now will require making up ground quickly. I’m not convinced they can do it, and what’s more, I don’t think they are either.