Ed Chamberlin: Watch Chelsea
Ed Chamberlin reflects on the Christmas Premier League programme - and what he learned at Kempton on Boxing Day.
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Boxing Day summed up why it is highly likely that Manchester United will win the Premier League title this season.
Yet again they fell behind. Yet again they didn't play their best. Yet again they managed to dig out a result. They are doing the latter far better than anyone else this season. If they can stop conceding goals, the rest really will be in trouble: incredibly United have conceded more goals at the halfway point of the season (28) than their entire title winning seasons in 2006-07 (27), 2007-08 (22) and 2008-09 (24).
After the dramatic 4-3 win against Newcastle, which Sir Alex described as a "championship performance", Sky Bet shortened United up to 4/11, while the damage of City's defeat at Sunderland was summed up by their alarming drift to 7/2 - the biggest price the champions have been all season.
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The fly in the ointment could still be Chelsea who have halved in price this week from 14/1 to 7/1. They showed both sides of their game in scoring eight against Aston Villa and then grafting for a 1-0 win at Norwich. Chelsea's mettle and title credentials are going to be tested on the road in a succession of tough away games coming up.
That starts at Everton in Super Sunday's early kick off at Goodison Park. Chelsea have not won in their last four Premier League visits there and the last time they avoided defeat was a 0-0 for Luiz Felipe Scolari's team on December 22nd 2008 when John Terry was sent off in the 35th minute for a high challenge on Leon Osman.
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Goodison is a tough place to go right now as Everton remain one of only two sides who are unbeaten at home in the League this season, along with Stoke, and are unbeaten in the last 12 games (W8 D4) since the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in March.
The two clubs are next due to meet on the final day of the Premier League season at Stamford Bridge and Sunday will tell us a lot about whether Chelsea might still be in the title running in May.
I will be at Loftus Road for QPR against Liverpool, which follows the match at Goodison. This is a massive game for the home side, who have shortened to 2/5 this week with Sky Bet for relegation.
Since the step forward against Fulham, QPR have taken two steps back but remain more than capable under Harry Redknapp of playing their way out of trouble. However, to do so, they simply have to win home games like the one on Super Sunday.
After the match at Loftus Road I'll be staying up in London as we have a Monday Night Football Special the next day. We start at 6pm on Sky Sports HD1 to look back on the Premier League weekend and the season so far. That will include Gary Neville's 'team of the season'. It should be good fun and I hope you can join us to kick off your New Year's Eve celebrations.
We were treated to an epic day's racing on Boxing Day despite the vile conditions. However, as predicted last week, Wincanton was dank and miserable, which meant car loads of fickle Chamberlins gave up after two races.
So what did we learn from a brilliant day's racing:- I opposed Long Run yesterday, which was a foolish move on that ground as he remains a fantastic staying chaser and as tough as they come. He's now a 7/1 chance to regain his Gold Cup crown but I still don't think Long Run has the gears he had two seasons ago and I struggle to see him winning a Gold Cup on a sound surface.
2. The King George field was full of non-stayers in the brutal conditions. Cue Card remains a prodigious talent and could easily bounce back in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival. Grands Crus proved once and for all that he is not the out-and-out stayer that plenty of punters thought he was. He could also become a Ryanair contender but for some reason I can easily picture Grands Crus tanking along in a Champion Chase.
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- Kempton Boxing Day
3. AP McCoy told us in this column before the season got going that he was confident Darlan would develop in to a serious Champion Hurdle contender, and the horse took a big step forward at Kempton. I'm not convinced about the form of the race but Darlan now heads Sky Bet's Champion Hurdle market at 4/1.
The race still looks a trappy one for punters as many of the contenders look so evenly matched. Nicky Henderson has an embarrassment of Champion Hurdle riches and I was particularly impressed with Grandouet (6/1) when he ran second to Zarkandar at Cheltenham earlier this month, giving him 4lb, while Oscar Whisky dismissed Raya Star more easily at Ascot than Darlan did at Kempton. Henderson has a strong hand but I sense they think Darlan is a bit special.
4. We know that Darlan will also be well suited by a return to faster going but a lot of the form we are seeing at at the moment will go out of the window when we eventually get spring ground. Form lines for the Cheltenham Festival could be a minefield. For example, I'd be amazed if Arvika Legionniere was able to beat Oscars Well again over two miles on good ground.
"Form lines for the Cheltenham Festival could be a minefield. For example, I'd be amazed if Arvika Legionniere was able to beat Oscars Well again over two miles on good ground."
The Christmas racing feast continues at Leopardstown this week and in England rolls on to Newbury on Saturday then Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Friday's highlight will be part two of Flemenstar v Sir Des Champs.