Reuters Soccer Blog
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As Dimitar Berbatov sluggishly rolled in Manchester United’s winner at Newcastle United on Wednesday it suddenly occurred to me that the Premier League season that threatened a different story is heading for a very familiar ending.
At the top, the midweek matches saw United record their 11th consecutive league win and strengthen their grasp on the title, while Chelsea and Liverpool consolidated Champions League spots and Arsenal made up ground on an Aston Villa side which might just be running out of steam.
At the bottom, this season’s potential shock began to evaporate as Tottenham Hotspur showed their true capabilities with a 4-0 drubbing of relegation-rivals Middlesbrough.
The season promised heroics.
Liverpool, who looked for much of the season to be in with a chance of the title have fallen away badly, while Chelsea have spent the campaign fighting internal battles and have nothing left for a title push.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has dismissed Chelsea’s Premier League title hopes, but given his side’s run of form he is perhaps being generous to Liverpool by saying they still have a chance.
“The title race now is going to be between ourselves and Liverpool,” Ferguson wrote in the programme for the 3-0 home win over Fulham that sent the champions five points clear of Liverpool and 10 ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea.
Bookmakers cut Aston Villa’s odds on winning the Premier League title from 50-1 to 40-1 on Wednesday following their gritty 1-0 victory at Portsmouth the previous night. It will not provoke a rush of punters parting with their hard-earned cash but with the wily Martin O’Neill at the helm and confidence soaring, there is no question Villa are now serious players in the title race.
What’s more, there appears to be genuine good will among fans of other clubs for Villa’s attempt to break the boring top-four stranglehold of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and
Arsenal. The reasons for that are plentiful.