Though there was no shortage of satellite-riffic entertainment on offer earlier today with unbeaten-at-home Manchester City’s 4-2 thumping of Bolton or Newcastle’s late win at Fulham (via a Joey Barton penalty, no less), casual fans and media creeps alike could be excused for looking ahead to Sunday’s titanic clash between Chelsea and Arsenal, along with Liverpool’s trip to Manchester United. Surveying the Big 4, the Guardian’s Kevin McCarra declares that while “only a satirist would have portrayed a plucky little Chelsea battling the odds and putting up a fight for the Premier League against better resourced sides”, said club “may not be well enough equipped”.
Roman Abramovich, one of the world’s plutocrats, ought to realise the irony. Should the title go to the biggest and, more importantly, best-balanced squad, then Chelsea, despite his means, will fall short unless there are unexpected pyrotechnics in the January transfer market. Options do exist but for a club with aspirations to bewitch the world and rake in global profits Chelsea are humdrum in attack whenever Didier Drogba, as is currently the case, cannot take the field.
That would be a means of berating Jose Mourinho were it not that this state of affairs is far from being his sole responsibility. No one supposes it was he who had a craving to pay £30m for Andriy Shevchenko on the brink of his 30th birthday. Nor would Mourinho have foreseen the frugality that led to the dabbling in the Bosman market for Claudio Pizarro.
Avram Grant, Mourinho’s successor, has been charged with delivering a more expressive style. Nonetheless, with the personnel as yet unaltered, Chelsea are being outgunned by the other members of the dominant quartet. They have scored 24 goals in 16 matches and six of those came with the visit of a peculiarly skittish Manchester City.
Manchester United appreciate more than anyone that the distinction and extent of the resources is the key. They have not forgotten how weariness brought them down on one front last season, when they were too feeble in the Champions League semi-final to cope with an excellent Milan side that had nothing else on its mind.
With the purchase since then of Nani, Anderson, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez, Sir Alex Ferguson would now have approaching 20 players of substance if everyone were available. It is the measure of the squad that no one thinks to refer to the missing persons, even though Gary Neville has been out since March and Paul Scholes will not be back until February. The disrupted season of Wayne Rooney barely rates a mention.