Arsenal lost 2-0 at the Emirates to European champions Bayern Munich last week a day after Manchester City were beaten 2-0 at the Etihad by Spanish champions Barcelona. Both sides were reduced to ten men in their first leg clash in the last sixteen round of the Champions League leaving both Premier League title rivals with a mountain to climb in their away legs at the Allianz Arena and Camp Nou, respectively.
Premier League leaders Chelsea will face Galatasaray away this Wednesday evening with many, including Jamie Redknapp, predicting a Chelsea win as a ‘certainty’ – whilst there are no certainties in football, I do believe the Blues are the favourites for the tie in which I fully expect them to progress through to the quarterfinals.
Manchester United take on Olympiakos on Tuesday night but the Red Devils are all but out the title race this term and are, by all accounts, focused primarily on achieving a top four finish to qualify for the Champions League next term. The reigning English champions currently reside in 6th place, six points behind Liverpool in 4th.
The title race looks at present to be a three legged one with Chelsea leading, Arsenal a point behind and Manchester City three points off the top with a game in hand to play. The fixture schedule gets chaotic around this period with FA Cup, League Cup and Premier League games as well as Champions League fixtures.
Manchester City and Chelsea have the squad to cope with the schedule congestion but Arsenal have a number of key players out injured and less firepower in the armory than their two rivals. Should Arsenal be knocked out of the Champions League by holders Bayern Munich it may give them an advantage in terms of fitness, focus, preparation and sharpness that, for example, Chelsea won’t if they progress past Galatasaray.
Manchester City still have a game in hand in the Premier League and they will have another one as they will play their Capital One Cup final against Sunderland this weekend whilst Arsenal and Chelsea play league fixtures. Should the Citizens find themselves unable to overturn the two-goal deficit at the Camp Nou against Barcelona and exit the Champions League, the quality and depth of their squad is already superior to that of Arsenal and, to an extent, Chelsea and that could really impact the title race in the Premier League.
City are still in the FA Cup, as are Arsenal, with Chelsea chasing the league title and the Champions League this term. In the title race, as far as the Gunners are concerned, perhaps going out of the Champions League wouldn’t be the worst case scenario for a club chasing a double at present after eight years without a trophy.
As we approach the business end of the season, the fatigue physically and mentally will set in to the players and injuries could play a part in deciding the title. The fewer games a team is playing, the lesser the likelihood of injuries is and the more preparation time managers have with the squad between games.
Arsenal play Chelsea and Manchester City just seven days apart at the end of March and their Champions League fate will have been already decided at the Allianz Arena by that point but Chelsea will settle their tie with Galatasaray on the evening of Tuesday 18th March before a lunchtime kick off at Stamford Bridge with the Gunners on the following the Saturday.
In April, Chelsea face Liverpool at Anfield just three days after the Champions League semifinals are played – if Jose Mourinho’s Blues make it that far, the boss will have some tough selection decisions to weigh up – with Chelsea just a point ahead of the Gunners, those three points at Anfield (or lack of) could decide whether Chelsea win the title or not.
City also travel to Anfield in April, potentially just three days after a quarterfinal clash in the Champions League (if they manage to progress past the Catalans). City also contest the Manchester derby with United at Old Trafford at the end of March just four days before they face the Gunners at the Emirates.
In April and May, Arsenal face just one team in the top seven (Everton in 7th at present) – there are no easy game and there are no certainties in football but it’s logical to assert that the fewer games the three title rivals play in other competitions between now and May is going to have an impact on the closest title race we’ve seen in years.
There are just three points in it at present and the Champions League tends to take priority for managers, despite the fact it is the most difficult and demanding competition to win of all. An eye on a Champions League game could mean teams take their eye off the ball in the Premier League.
image: © edwin11