Top four race dies with a whim­per

Af­ter a tough bat­tle, Chelsea’s al­ready slim Cham­pi­ons League hopes are ly­ing in tat­ters

Mail & Guardian - - Sport - Luke Feltham

This week, eight years ago, Di­dier Drogba stub­bornly fought Frank Lam­pard to gain cus­tody of the ball on the penalty spot. Ou­tranked, Drogba lost the bat­tle but still went in to net a hat-trick in the 8-0 blud­geon­ing of Wi­gan Ath­letic to en­sure Chelsea won the 20092010 English Premier League ti­tle.

The glut­tony had the pleas­ant side ef­fect of set­ting a new record for most goals in a sea­son.

With a smart run and an al­most scuffed fin­ish, Manch­ester City’s Danilo equalled that record this week. A few min­utes and an in­tel­li­gent Bernardo Silva half-vol­ley later and it was bro­ken. The ac­co­lade achieved on Wed­nes­day night will likely be lost amid the ra­pa­cious heap of Man City glory but, at the same time, would have been bit­terly felt in a game down south.

What the cur­rent it­er­a­tion of the Blues would have given to have bick­er­ing, but hun­gry, lead­ers on that same day. Af­ter a sur­pris­ing spurt of form, Chelsea had chis­elled out an open­ing into the Cham­pi­ons League. It may have been un­likely, but get the job done in the last two games and who knows, foot­ball might just do its thing.

Foot­ball was given no such op­por­tu­nity. An­to­nio Conte set out a firsthalf team that could only bang its head against the sen­tient wall that was Hud­der­s­field. The rel­e­ga­tion­threat­ened strag­glers had 11 play­ers in front of the ball at most times, but their cause was made no harder by a blunt Al­varo Mo­rata-led at­tack. The Spaniard was suf­fo­cated ev­ery time the ball came within touch­ing dis­tance — not that his touch is some­thing he was par­tic­u­larly adept at in ei­ther case. Pe­dro and Wil­lian, mean­while, failed to in­ject any oxy­gen from the flanks, doggedly go­ing nar­row when­ever on the ball.

No teeth ac­com­pa­nied the louden­ing bark in the sec­ond half. Olivier Giroud and Eden Haz­ard were the re­sponse to go­ing be­hind but couldn’t add any­thing to Mar­cos Alonso’s in­ad­ver­tent equaliser.

It was a sur­real re­sult for Hud­der­s­field, whose safety was locked down with the draw. Stay­ing up is a ridicu­lous achieve­ment for David Wag­ner and com­pany, who were pen­cilled into last place by most be­fore the first whis­tle of the sea­son.

No top four off-the-seat ac­tion for the last day, then. City, Manch­ester United, Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur and Liver­pool are Eng­land’s all-but-con­firmed Cham­pi­ons League con­tenders. The only way that or­der can be chal­lenged is if Jür­gen Klopp and his Reds con­spire to lose at home to Brighton.

Should that re­sult come to pass, there is the pos­si­bil­ity that all-out hi­lar­ity could en­sue.

Steven Ger­rard’s lift­ing of Europe’s prime trophy in 2005 could re­ver­ber­ate into the present and bless his boy­hood club. Uefa de­cided af­ter that event to sac­ri­fice the worstplaced team from the win­ner’s league should the club not be in a qual­i­fy­ing po­si­tion them­selves. This is a de­cree Spurs felt the brunt of in 2012, cour­tesy of Chelsea, no less.

Now, should the Blues sneak into fourth, Liver­pool could then re­claim their place by beat­ing Real Madrid in the fi­nal — knock­ing the Lon­don club to the Europa League. Foot­ball truly can be a funny game.

Dodg­ing rel­e­ga­tion: Hud­der­s­field Town man­ager David Wag­ner (above) leads his team to an un­likely draw against Chelsea to re­tain their Premier League sta­tus. Photo: Matthew Childs/Reuters

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