Not many people gave Manchester United a shot Sunday after seeing their lineup against Chelsea. Among many changes, the most glaring change was Marcus Rashford starting over Zlatan Ibrahimovic because Zlatan was “tired” according to Jose Mourinho.
Nothing against Marcus Rashford, he’s a very talented 19-year-old and has shown to be more than capable of starting for Manchester United. It just seemed weird that of all games, Jose Mourinho would put him out against Chelsea.
Some felt Mourinho was resting Zlatan to have a better chance at advancing in the Europa League because winning that would also gain a Champions League spot. We don’t know if that was the reason or not but it didn’t matter because Man United dominated Chelsea and beat them 2-0 at Old Trafford. It was Rashford scoring the first goal along with Ander Herrera grabbing a goal and assist. United’s defense was so smothering on Chelsea that they didn’t register a single shot on target.
Naturally, once Chelsea were humbled, all talk shifted toward the Premier League title. After losing twice in their last four, Tottenham has taken a huge chunk out of Chelsea’s once insurmountable lead. Spurs have won seven PL games in a row and outscored their opponents 22-4. All this while Harry Kane was out most of that time with an ankle injury.
So now that Kane is back and Tottenham is four points behind Chelsea with just six games left, the title race is automatically back on, right? Not so fast.
I’ll admit that Tottenham has a much better chance now than they did a week ago and way better chance compared to a month ago, but Tottenham still isn’t close to lifting the trophy at the end of the season. It would be a nice storybook ending to White Hart Lane if Tottenham won their first title since 1961 but there is still a lot of barriers that keep Chelsea separated from Tottenham by much more than four points.
For one thing, look at who Chelsea lost to. In addition to Manchester United, Chelsea lost at home to Crystal Palace, a team who has been rescued from potential relegation by Sam Allardyce and has only lost once since mid-February. Palace may sit 15th but they aren’t playing like a 15th place team.
In addition, look at the competition. After their FA Cup game against each other next Saturday, Chelsea will face Southampton (H), Everton (A), Middlesbrough (H), West Brom (A), Watford (H) and close out against Sunderland (H).
Tottenham play Crystal Palace (A), Arsenal (H), West Ham (A), Manchester United (H), Leicester City (A) and Hull City (A).
Chelsea arguably have the easier schedule going the rest of the way. Yes, four of Chelsea’s final six are against top ten teams but they all sit in the lower half of the top ten. In addition, West Brom have lost three straight and Southampton and Watford come off of recent losses. Maybe Everton can give Chelsea a fight at Goodison Park but Chelsea should be able to win five of six along with a final game against a likely relegated Sunderland. If that’s the case and Chelsea pick up 15 of 18 points, Chelsea will still win by a point if Tottenham win out.
For Tottenham, their real only shot at winning the Premier League is to win out. If they do, they will end their season on a 13 game winning streak. That would match what Chelsea did earlier this season and would tie a record for most consecutive wins.
But this would involve defeating the emerging Crystal Palace and an Arsenal team who is in shambles but will still be difficult. In addition, they have to end their season facing a Manchester United team fighting for the top four, Leicester City who has jumped in the fountain of 2016-17 and a Hull City team who may need a result on the final day to stay in the Premier League. Tottenham will benefit in that their next four games are all based in London but they need more than that if they want to win the Premier League.
So is the Premier League title race on? It could and theoretically, a four point margin is nothing in the Premier League. But I still see Chelsea lifting the trophy at the end of the season. Maybe I’m being naive and not taking into account those strange happenings we see from time to time (like Leicester) but I need some more time before being convinced Chelsea is in danger of losing the Premier League.