Rants and musings from the magazine team
The past few days have brought introspection for many a Premier League manager, and a surprising number are opting for sober realism/cold defeatism (delete as appropriate).
First, there's Rafa Benitez, who admitted, with utter misery in his voice, "The difference [between Liverpool and 4th] is maybe too much now."
Then there's Alex Ferguson, never usually one to say die until the 98th minute, who has said: "It has slipped away from us."
But is it just typical mind games from the Scot? He went on to say: "We have a lifeline if Chelsea blow it. But to my eyes they have an easy game against Bolton on Tuesday. We would expect them to win that and it will put them four points clear."
Not only does that put pressure on Chelsea to win, it fires up Bolton. Mind games may be the sign of a man on the defensive, but some are most dangerous when they're in a corner.
Despite what Ferguson is seemingly saying, this title race is not over.
Chelsea vs Bolton
Bolton will probably be fired up by Fergie's comments, but it may not be enough. Even with Chelsea resting key players, the Blues should have enough firepower here.
On similar lines, what an utterly depressing FA Cup season this is turning out to be.
In the last 14 seasons, Portsmouth in 2008 was the only time a Big Four team missed out on the title. This year, it looked different. Liverpool and Manchester United out in the Third Round; Arsenal out in the Fourth. Even top four wannabes Manchester City and Everton were out by the fifth. This could be the year the big boys' dominance over the alleged fairytale cup was ended.
And who's in the final? Chelsea. Again. And they’re likely to see off Portsmouth too. Onward, onward marches the relentless surge of predictable cup winners.
In this game, Bolton...oh, who cares, we're too depressed.
What won't happen: Top-tier English football to ever be exciting again
What will happen: Rubbish! Of course English football can be exciting again – look at the battle for the title this year, between, uh, Chelsea...Manchester United...and Arsenal. Hmm. Home win
Aston Villa vs Everton
Many were expecting this game to be a battle for seventh and seventh alone, but Liverpool's slack 'n' sloppy slump 'n' slide sees Villa slowly slithering into slontention.
Sluddenly – sorry, suddenly – Villa have a great chance of bypassing the Reds. Two points behind with two games in hand and an easy run-in? Bosh. The charge for fourth may be over (O'Neill's charges are eight points behind Man City) but sixth and potentially fifth for a Europa League spot are well up for grabs.
Which would leave Liverpool in seventh. Now that really would be a season to forget.
What won't happen: This could be a great game. It won't be
What will happen: A third consecutive disappointing draw for Everton leaves Villa just as frustrated.
Spurs vs Arsenal
Norf Lahndan derbies simply don't get bigger than this. For Arsenal, this is possibly the last chance to stay in the title hunt, overtaking Manchester United if they win. For Spurs, this is the biggest league game since Lasagnegate at West Ham.
The big news for Arsenal is that Robin Van Persie might make a surprise return after five months out. The big news for Spurs is that their entire season could be over in the space of four days. Pompey fans looking for an FA Cup Final ticket might want to scout around eBay for 'DejectedAsEver', and 'WhyBother_91'.
But here, over 90 minutes, Spurs can stop their season hitting the titters and keep on Man City's tail. Can they pull an absolutely massive result out of the bag? This cartoonist says no (and furthermore, he's glad your dog died)
What won't happen: This is the first of Tottenham's trio of nightmare fixtures: Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United. Can they take at least two crucial wins from these three games? Do bears buy bog roll?
What will happen: There's a very predictable pattern in relation to Spurs results: whatever this blog predicts, the opposite happens. So, predicting a draw here – does that mean it'll be a thumping win either way?
Wigan vs Portsmouth
Hull's defeat to Burnley must have had Latics fans dancing in the streets, doing the Wigan Jive.
A win would have put Hull just one point behind Martinez's men; as it is, both they and Burnley are four points adrift, with Wigan waving happily from the shore. Three points here could wrap up safety, albeit with flimsy, three-year old Christmas paper that falls apart with the slightest tug.
And these are crazy times for Pompey, officially relegated from the Premier League but just as officially in the FA Cup Final for the second time in three years.
How do you react to such opposing fortunes? It's like being kicked in the gut but then, as you go down gasping for air, having £50 notes shoved in your mouth. On which you choke. And die. But you're brought back to life 20 minutes later by the love of your life. Who leaves you. But you win the lottery and celebrate with a hotel room full of beautiful hookers. On whom you then choke. And die. Happy.
Look, the point is it's a time of mixed emotions, all right? It's a tragedy when bad things happen to good metaphors.
What won't happen: This may be why no one is publishing this blog's novel, The Mystery of the Slightly Rusted Metal Drainpipe
What will happen: It depends entirely on whether Portsmouth turn up – the happy heroes of Wembley or the hungover heroes of Wembley. This blog expects the latter. Home win
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