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Saturday, May 10, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Finest Premier League season ever wrapping up in fantastic fashion


LONDON — Kevin Keegan said the Premier League was boring.

Christopher Davies

Predictable maybe, but boring?

Never.

It is the strongest league in Europe and Sunday reaches the most thrilling climax ever.

If Chelsea and Manchester United both win their remaining games against Bolton (home) and Wigan (away), respectively, it will be the first time the Premier League title has been decided on goal difference with United pipping the Blues.

How exciting a finale do you want?

Two from Fulham, Reading and Birmingham will join Derby through the trap-door into the Championship.

Boring?

I think not.

We have seen a phenomenal season from Cristiano Ronaldo, the United winger who has scored an improbable 40 goals.

Ronaldo boring?

Er, no.

Newcastle manager Keegan said: "This league is in danger of becoming one of the most boring, but great, leagues."

His logic is based on the fact that the so-called Big Four of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have formed an unbreakable monopoly.

Kevin, it is a similar situation in most countries. Try living in France, where Lyon has just won the title for the seventh successive season. Or Greece, where Olympiakos should change its name to Olympiakos Champions.

This has been the most exciting, entertaining, thrilling season in the Premier League's 16-year history.

United and Chelsea go head to head not only for English supremacy Sunday, but on May 21 in the Champions League final to be kings of Europe.

It is as good as it gets and boring it is not.

Keegan seems to be getting his excuses in early for next season, while at the same time putting pressure on Newcastle owner Mike Ashley to give him mega-millions to spend on new recruits.

KK was summoned to a meeting with Ashley on Friday to explain his comments and, while Keegan may have been realistic in claiming Newcastle is a million miles from breaking into English football's elite group, owners and fans prefer to hear their manager being more optimistic about the future.

In the meantime, United and Chelsea prepare for Judgment Day . . . Showdown Sunday . . . and we must be grateful for Chelsea's resurgence, which has made the Premier League a photo-finish after United seemed to be running away with the title.

Conspiracy theorists say that as Wigan is managed by Steve Bruce, a former United legend, it might take it easy against his former club. That is an insult to Bruce and his players.

Whatever the failings of the Premier League, there is an honesty in such games that is seen every season — no team ever has an easy ride. Bruce has not beaten United in 10 attempts as a manager and the fiercely competitive ex-United defender does not want that streak to become 0-11.

Bruce will want Wigan to win and to hell with United's fate.

Anyone who thinks Wigan will just happily stand by and let United win the title is sorely mistaken.

We have heard this before. For instance, in 1995, Liverpool was expected to take it easy and hand the title to Blackburn Rovers, who it played on the final day of the season, and who was managed by former Anfield idol Kenny Dalglish.

Liverpool showed full respect to the Premier League and displaying the sort of professionalism we have come to expect beat Blackburn — ultimately it was United's failure at West Ham that cost it the title.

Bolton may have secured its Premier League status for another year, but it would love to be the side that ends Chelsea's four-year domestic unbeaten home record. The visitors are physically imposing and will be motivated by being in the national spotlight.

At the other end of the table Fulham is favored to continue its recent good form and escape the drop when it plays at Portsmouth, which has lost its last three games.

Goalkeeper David James has urged manager Harry Redknapp to play a full-strength team against Fulham for the sake of the sport's integrity.

Redknapp has made no secret of the fact that his mind is focused mainly on the F.A. Cup Final against Cardiff next Saturday and is likely to choose a number of fringe players against Fulham.

The England goalkeeper feels it would be wrong to play a weakened side as the visitors fight for their Premier League lives and said: "We'll have to see whether the gaffer picks me for Sunday. We have a responsibility to fans around the country because if we laid down and allowed Fulham a free win it wouldn't be right.

"As a player the last thing I would want is to give anyone a free ticket to stay in the Premier League."

Fulham's fate is in its own hands. If it wins, it stays up regardless of what happens elsewhere, a scenario Reading and Birmingham would dearly love.

* * * * *

I DO NOT know Luis Felipe Scolari. A man who led Brazil to 2002 World Cup success and Portugal to the Euro 2004 final must have his wits about him.

With this in mind it is staggering that he should be contemplating working for Manchester City owner Thaksin Shinawatra, who would probably win, by a considerable margin, any vote for Worst Owner Of A Premier League Club.

Shinawatra has told Sven-Goran Eriksson he will not be retained after the end of the season.

The Swede saw Benfica about its vacant coaching job this week, as Scolari considered an offer from Shinawatra. In public all the Thai will say is that he would not make a decision on Eriksson's future until the end of the season.

A poll among City fans revealed an astonishing 99 percent in favor of Eriksson staying. With the exception of Shinawatra, everyone it seems thinks the former England coach is doing a good job.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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