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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Points from 'Super League' matches crucial to title hopes


LONDON — They are becoming the games that the four participants dare not lose.

Christopher Davies

Arsenal meets Manchester United Saturday in the fourth fixture this season of England's "Super League," and the team winning most points in games between the Premier League's elite will almost certainly be champions of England.

The Gunners, United, Chelsea and Liverpool are pulling away from the rest of the pack and, despite poor results in the Champions League, Liverpool remains unbeaten in the Premier League.

The Reds are sixth with a game in hand behind Arsenal, United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Blackburn, but come next May the chances are the teams who have finished in the top four for three of the last four seasons will once again dominate the Premier League.

Some argue a four-club Super League monopoly is not good for the domestic game — with only Everton, Leeds and Newcastle able to break into the top four since 2000.

Yet the battle between the Super League heavyweights is a fascinating, exciting and intriguing private battle within the Premier League war.

Since the new millennium, the team which has gained the most points in matches involving the other top four clubs has won the Premier League five times in seven years.

The pattern is clearly developing that it is imperative not to drop points in matches between the other clubs in the Super League. So far this season Liverpool has drawn 1-1 against Arsenal and Chelsea, with United beating Chelsea 2-0.

Today's summit meeting between Arsenal and United at Emirates Stadium may bring the winners only the usual three points, but it would also mean a crucial loss of three points for the defeated side in the Super League.

The stakes in the games between the Premier League's heavyweights has never been higher, and a downside of this is that the Super League matches are becoming un-refereeable. Rarely does one pass without a major controversy.

Howard Webb will be in charge of what is becoming the most demanding and difficult of Premier League fixtures with a history of controversy, bad blood, pitch battles and tunnel bust-ups, not to mention the mind games between Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson.

On the positive side, the game could be the platform for Cesc Fabregas to continue the incredible progress he is showing this season. The Arsenal midfielder is already so accomplished at 20 that there seems little doubt the Spaniard will become an all-time great.

Wenger was able to offload Patrick Vieira to Juventus a couple of seasons ago because he knew Fabregas was ready to take over from the former captain.

Already Fabregas has scored 10 goals in 15 appearances this season and, with Mathieu Flamini now establishing himself as the midfield anchor man, the former Barcelona player has a license to go forward, which he is doing in breathtaking style.

It seems inevitable he will be chosen Footballer of the Year next May.

When Fabregas was starting to come through the Arsenal ranks, Wenger told his coaches that the teenager was "the best 17-year-old I have ever seen."

Wenger would probably say Fabregas is now the finest 20-year-old he has ever seen.

The Arsenal manager was talking about the role Fabregas plays — the teenage Pele was a bit special. To possess such a creative, imaginative, inventive football brain at 20 is rare and the bonus is that Fabregas has had few injury problems for someone always in the thick of the action.

Wenger is the ideal coach for Fabregas because the Frenchman loves his team to pass and run. Fabregas always seems to be available in space and if he lacks half a yard of pace he more than makes up for this with his quick thinking and movement.

On top of everything, Fabregas is a smashing lad with an ego disproportionate to his immense talent, a willing listener and learner.

Let showtime at Emirates begin.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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