United turn Terminator in title race, but its hasta la vista AVB

Mar 5, 2012
Jonathan Harwood

Premier League talking points from super Szczesny to bad boy Balotelli

AFTER another weekend of pulsating action United and City are still slugging it out at the top of the table, and Spurs' faint hopes of catching either of them are now gone. Indeed Harry Redknapp's men now face a tough task to hang on to third place with Arsenal breathing down their necks.

Liverpool's hopes of European football took a serious dent with defeat against the Gunners and Chelsea are once again all at sea after their manager abruptly left the club in mid-season - the third time that has happened in five seasons.

At the foot of the table the bottom three clubs failed to find the net once while QPR and Blackburn picked up draws.

Here's what the fans will be talking about this morning:

When he arrived at Chelsea, Andre Villas Boas stressed that he did not want to be seen as the 'Special One', and Roman Abramovich duly obliged by giving him a very ordinary send off seven months into the season. Another thing that AVB said when he rolled into Stamford Bridge was that success would be down to team work and good relationships. Given the attitude of some members of the team and his relationship with them AVB was dead in the water from the very beginning. However, being dead in the water appears to be the default position for Chelsea bosses these days. Roberto Di Matteo's chances of surviving the summer in the hot seat are nil, so whoever takes over on a full time basis this summer or possibly sooner, will become the tenth man to take charge of the Blues under Abramovich. Good luck to him.

Manchester City fans must be starting to feel the pressure, as United simply refuse to lie down and die. Every weekend at the moment City do their bit, only for their rivals to respond in kind. It's the footballing equivalent of watching the Terminator films. On Sunday, United faced their toughest test with a trip to third-placed Spurs and simply brushed them aside. And while City have to play Arsenal and Chelsea during the run-in, United only have one game against a top seven side before the end of the season, and we all know who that's against... It looks for all the world as though the clash between City and United at the Etihad on April 30 will be the title decider.

A couple of weeks ago Spurs still felt they were still in the title race, but after two straight defeats they are now fighting to cling on to third place. They say the table doesn't lie and it is surely no co-incidence that the only two teams to have done the double over Spurs this season are the only two sides above them in the table, City and United. So Spurs may deserve their third place, but they will have to battle hard to keep it as Arsenal hove into view. The Gunners, who beat Spurs 5-2 last weekend, are now only four points behind their local rivals and, rather unexpectedly, appear to have the momentum.

It's no surprise that Robin Van Persie gave his man of the match champagne to keeper Wojciech Szczesny  after Arsenal's dramatic win over Liverpool. The Dutchman's late goal may have earned the Gunners all three points, but had it not been for the heroics of the Pole in goal at the other end, then the winning strike would have been no more than a consolation. Szczesny pulled off some spectacular stops to thwart Liverpool and his double save from Dirk Kuyt's penalty was Boy's Own stuff. Arsenal may have plenty of other problems, but a season after he established himself as the Gunners number one, Arsene Wenger no longer needs to concern himself about who to play between the sticks.

There was a typically tempestuous Tyne Wear derby on Sunday as Newcastle and Sunderland picked up eight bookings, two red cards and a goal apiece at the Sports Direct Arena. The drama even overflowed from the pitch to the technical area where managers Alan Pardew and Martin O'Neill squared up more than once, and the Magpies' goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman was sent to the stands. After the game O'Neill didn't bother to settle his differences with Pardew and jumped straight onto the team coach. Of course Pardew is no stranger to touchline bust-ups he almost came to blows with Arsene Wenger while manager of West Ham, but given that both managers are likely to be in the North East for some time we could get to enjoy many more spats.

Manchester City strolled to victory over Bolton on Saturday with Mario Balotelli on the scoresheet once again (along with Gael Clichy), but it was the Italian striker's off-field antics that dominated the weekend headlines. He was pictured outside Liverpool strip bar 'X In The City' (Liverpool's number one fantasy lounge, apparently) on Friday morning when he should have been tucked up in bed. His goal may have soothed his manager's anger over his his curfew-busting stunt, but Roberto Mancini is losing patience. "It is incredible," he said after the game. "Carlos Tevez, Mario Balotelli, we cannot go for two days without a problem." But 19 straight league wins should help soothe his ire.

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