Belfast Telegraph

Robin van Persie can drive Manchester United to title glory

Steven Beacom assesses the title race, the top four and the relegation battle with ideas on how everything will finish

The title race

What we know for sure is that the Premier League crown is staying in Manchester.

Chelsea flirted with a title challenge early on, but have kissed goodbye to any hopes in recent turbulent weeks leaving United and City to get down to business.

And this despite Sir Alex Ferguson's team and Roberto Mancini's men failing to sparkle for most of the campaign to date.

United have conceded too many goals, have continually started slowly and few of their players are performing at a consistently high level, yet somehow top the table having amassed 11 victories out of 14 along the way.

Many of those wins have been down to the scoring instincts of Robin van Persie, who was at it again on Wednesday night netting the only goal against West Ham.

Van Persie has been the signing of the summer and will continue to shine. Wayne Rooney could do with upping his game though, especially if injury strikes the Dutchman which it has been prone to do down the years.

Defensively Ferguson's team have looked a shambles at times, but that will improve as the season progresses.

City too have been shaky at the back, though more in the Champions League where they have endured another nightmare.

In the Premier League they remain unbeaten which is impressive because everyone is desperate to take the scalp of the champions.

With City not as easy on the eye as last season, Mancini is well aware that he is not only fighting Fergie for the title — he is fighting to cling on to his job.

Anything other than top spot and the Italian will be gone on the back of failing in the Champions League again.

To that end, Mario Balotelli, who scored his first goal of the season in the midweek win over Wigan, will be vital along with Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez.

Like last season the destination of the title will probably come down to the derbies. Remember City won both in 2011-2012.

The first this term comes on Sunday week at the Ethiad.

It's not to be missed.

United, a point ahead of their Manchester rivals, would take a draw right now.

Come May I fancy them to take the title — just.

The top four

United and City will make up the top two and Chelsea, with their players, really should be third, but that's by no means a certainty after events of the past month.

First there was the poor run of form, then the sacking of Roberto Di Matteo followed by the arrival of Rafael Benitez, who is proving about as popular at Stamford Bridge as a hungry fox in a henhouse.

Chelsea supporters have not been shy in showing their hatred towards Benitez, who when as Liverpool boss questioned their passion. Clearly it has had a negative impact on the team.

They've played two home games since Benitez's appointment and not scored — or looked likely to. On the upside they have not conceded either, but with this ugly atmosphere surrounding the club for as long as the Spaniard is there, it does not bode well.

With Fernando Torres still misfiring, Benitez needs a new striker in January. He also needs John Terry and Frank Lampard back. The return of those two could yet see the Blues make the top four.

Everton and West Brom are also in the mix. The latter deserve huge credit for that. The former have a better chance of sticking around, before falling behind Spurs and Arsenal.

This may be the season when Arsene Wenger's side finally miss out, unless he makes a significant signing or two in January.

If the Gunners don't make the top four, Wenger could be saying au revoir.

Tottenham, of course, finished fourth last season but with Chelsea winning the European Cup and claiming the last English Champions League place, Harry Redknapp's side were not allowed to take their place in the competition.

Exit Harry. Enter Andre Villas-Boas, sacked by Chelsea last season. Funny old game.

AVB will be laughing his designer socks off if he finishes in the top four at the expense of Chelsea, but it's more likely to be ahead of Arsenal.

Liverpool could make a late charge, but for that to happen Brendan Rodgers must be allowed to bring in at least three new players early next year to add to his painfully thin squad.

Even then it is a big ask in the major rebuilding job at Anfield, especially if Luis Suarez continues to be denied blatant penalties, as he was again in Wednesday's unfortunate defeat at Spurs.

For the drop

QPR are now eight points away from safety. It'll take an almighty effort for them to get out of trouble but I believe Harry Redknapp might just inspire a revival and survival.

Expect some important wins in December and high profile recruits in January as Redknapp gets to work.

While QPR can get clear, I'm not so sure about the other two currently in the bottom three — Reading and Southampton, who won't have enough to stay up.

Newcastle and Sunderland are having poor seasons but they'll pull away unlike Wigan, Aston Villa and Norwich who'll be in a scrap to the end.

The Canaries are the best of those three right now.

Six months from now though they'll be on their way to the Championship.

Belfast Telegraph


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