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Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012

PREMIER REPORT

Man United, Man City in own class


LONDON — Every season it's the same.

Christopher Davies

We say this time it will not be a two-horse race . . . that three or four teams will make the Premier League title race more competitive.

Last August we thought European champion Chelsea, reinforced by Oscar and Eden Hazard, would be competitive, that Tottenham with Hugo Lloris, Mousa Dembele and Chris Dempsey arriving, can show there is life after Harry Redknapp.

Arsenal, even without Robin van Persie, will add substance to their style?

Newcastle can build on a hugely satisfying season and Liverpool, surely, must improve?

Wrong.

Once again the battle for domestic supremacy is developing into a tale of one city as Manchester leaves London and the rest in its wake. United and City have opened a six-point gap on the chasing pack and while this is far from unassailable, there is little evidence that the deficit will be made up.

Chelsea, with two wins —and two managers — in 10 games, is in a self-imposed mess, with fans chanting "we want our Chelsea back" during the goal-less and soul-less draw against Fulham.

Tottenham can beat the best, but lose to the worst.

Arsenal plays pretty football without a cutting edge, while instead of moving up the table, Liverpool is only four points off the drop zone.

Things are even worse for Newcastle, which is only two points above Southampton.

West Bromwich is the surprise packet, but not even diehard Baggies fans expect them to finish fourth.

Defending champion City is unbeaten in its 14 games with talk about it becoming the third Invincibles of English football.

Roberto Mancini's side may be chumps in the Champions League, but at home it is grinding out results without necessarily impressing.

Ditto United, which in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson has been "living dangerously" by continually having to come from behind, having conceded the first goal in nine of its 14 league matches.

City and United meet at Etihad Stadium on Dec. 9 and Ferguson said: "We're coming to a really important time in the season where our defending, if it improves, will give us a great chance."

Seven of their 11 victories have been by one goal which, like grinding out results, is the way titles are won.

Chelsea may not dominate the league, but it continues to be the main focus of back page attention, inevitably for the wrong reasons. Good news almost seems banned at Stamford Bridge, where the regulars are venting their anger at Rafa Benitez instead of the man who appointed the interim manager, Roman Abramovich.

The Russian runs Chelsea like the North Korea of the Premier League, where from chairman Bruce Buck on down everyone dances to Abramovich's tune. Though Chelsea fans appreciate the success the oligarch's millions have brought to the club, there is obvious growing resentment among the massed ranks to the knee-jerk way he hires and fires managers.

The sacking of Roberto Di Matteo was as unpopular as the appointment of Benitez, who was given the most hostile reception of any new manager I can remember last Sunday when Chelsea played Manchester City.

In his executive box, Abramovich, whose facial expression is so fixed it could almost be a mask, witnessed the hostility which will not have bothered him in the slightest.

When you support or work for Chelsea these days, you know the rules and the ruler.

So far Chelsea supporters have stopped short of openly protesting against Abramovich because while they do not like what the Russian does, they know without his millions the club would resume their pre-Roman status of also-rans.

Their patience is wearing thin and it is only a matter of time before the owner is the public target of supporters' frustration. Maybe he'll sack them, too.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola is enjoying his sabbatical in New York and must be asking himself if Chelsea is the right environment for his return to football next summer. If you're reading this, Pep, let me give you a few words of advice: it isn't . . . look elsewhere.

* * *

FEW ARE AGAINST the use of technology to determine whether all of the ball has crossed all of the goal-line and the necessary equipment is nearing its final tests.

Now UEFA president Michel Platini, who believes stopping the European season so the 2022 World Cup in Qatar can be played during winter rather than the Middle East's sauna summer will be easy, is considering extending the use of technology.

Platini said: "There is a complicated thing for which we might, and I say might, need video, it's offside. Because it is very difficult for the referees to rule on that."

Firstly, it is the assistant referee who makes offside calls.

Secondly, it is estimated that 99 percent of offside decisions are correct, which makes you wonder if it's worth all the fuss.

Thirdly, how would the video replays be implemented?

Would teams be allowed a certain amount of challenges like in the NFL?

Gridiron is a sport of natural stoppages so challenges can be made without disrupting the game.

When and how could an offside challenge be made?

Assuming it takes 30 seconds for a replay to be seen, by then the opposition could have scored.

Would the game be stopped and restarted with a drop ball?

Michel, a few words of advice for you, too: Forget this daft idea, it will not work, and leave offside calls to the near perfect assistant referees.

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


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