Ed Chamberlin: Tight at the top
Sky Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin looks at the Premier League and the weekend's top horse racing in his latest column.
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"A Mourinho Monday Night Masterclass". Vintage Martin Tyler on the final whistle at the Etihad.
That summed up the game perfectly.
Mourinho produced the perfect game plan. Manchester City planned to steamroller Chelsea in the same way they had to most other Premier League opponents at home.
They ran in to a brick wall and seemed to have no Plan B to knock it down. Instead it was Hazard and Willian that drove the bus forward as Chelsea made a major statement in the title race with a 1-0 victory.
I wonder what Arsene Wenger was thinking while he watched the match? His team stay top and remain 9/2 shots to win the title but now have two giants hunting them down. This is exactly the title race scenario I'd hoped for in this column before Christmas.
If Arsenal can stay in the hunt until the end of March, with their run-in, the Gunners are massive runners. However, with their set of fixtures coming up, that is a big 'if'.
On Monday night, the team news was all-important. Gary Neville's immediate reaction was to describe Fernandinho's absence as an 'equaliser' for Chelsea. When the line-ups were revealed on the show by Geoff Shreeves just after 7pm, both he and Jamie Carragher seemed to fancy Chelsea's chances.
Yet I don't think either expected what we saw in central midfield.
For the first time in a long time, Yaya Toure met his match. On the toughest of stages Nemanja Matic put in a performance that must be amongst the best ever on a first Premier League start.
Matic had Jamie and Gary waxing lyrical in the studio and you can now see exactly why Chelsea were prepared to take the hit and bring him back to the club. Matic has filled a major piece that was missing in the Chelsea jigsaw. For the first time they are starting to look like a Mourinho-style team. Full of intent, organisation, defensive solidity and most importantly - power.
Is a striker now the one missing piece? Could that be what stops Chelsea winning the title this season? Jose seems to think they aren't ready. Do you believe him?
The title race is beautifully set up but likewise the race for the Champions League and the battle to avoid relegation. The top, middle and bottom of the table is so tight that every game has something on it.
We've for two fascinating matches on Super Sunday, which will have a big impact on the race for fourth and the relegation scrap. What summed up the status quo in the bottom half of the table was that at some point last weekend every team moved places.
"These are worrying times for Manchester United. The champions are out to 10/3 to finish in the top four. The defeat at Stoke means they've lost eight Premier League games already this season. The most they have lost in a whole Premier League season is nine in 2001-02 and 2003-04."
The weekend finished with Fulham at the foot of the Premier League table and shortening to 1/2 with Sky Bet to be relegated.
I was at Craven Cottage on Saturday to see a performance that epitomised Fulham's season. They started well again and had chances, again, which they didn't take - only to run out of legs in the second half. Southampton fan riot in the second half with three brilliant goals from three of their England players.
'Legs' will be key for Fulham and they have added plenty of youth in the January transfer window. Much will depend on Konstantinos Mitroglou, who they signed on deadline day in a reported club record £12.4m deal from Olympiakos.
He was top scorer in the Greek League with 14 goals and they were unbeaten with a 14 point lead at the top of the table and set for a Champions League tie with Manchester United. He's swapped all that for a relegation battle with Fulham.
Mitroglou's new team have an awful record against United, especially at Old Trafford. Fulham have lost the last nine Premier League meetings, conceding 24 goals and scoring only five.
If Manchester United win on Sunday it will set a new Premier League club record of most consecutive home wins against another club (they have also won nine in a row against Tottenham and Bolton).
However, Fulham are up against a very different team and these are worrying times for Manchester United. The champions are out to 10/3 to finish in the top four. The defeat at Stoke means they've lost eight Premier League games already this season.
The most they have lost in a whole Premier League season is nine in 2001-02 and 2003-04, finishing third on both occasions.
They've already dropped 16 points at home this season, having dropped only nine points at home last season. Anderson's quotes this week about players wanting to leave the club has only added to David Moyes' problems. Sunday is surely a must win to keep their Champions League hopes alive.
Liverpool remain the hot favourites to secure that berth at 4/7 with Sky Bet and on Super Sunday, Tottenham (3/1 to finish in the top four) and Everton (5/1 could boost their own chances, whilst delivering a potentially fatal blow to the other.
This fixture has been played in all 22 Premier League seasons and Tottenham have won more points (73) and scored more goals (62) against Everton than against any other team.
The first meeting between these two was goalless but that's unlikely now with Tottenham averaging two goals per game under Tim Sherwood, after scoring 0.9 goals per game under Andre Villas Boas.
Everton also look full of goals too. After the heavy defeat in the Merseyside derby and 1-0 down to Aston Villa it looked like their season might be about to hit the buffers. They showed real character to turn that round and remain big runners in the race for the Champions League. Sunday is a crucial game for both sides.
We'll be live on Sky Sports 1 from 12.30pm.
Not so this year, largely down to the horrendous weather and horrible ground. Neither the Denman Chase or Game Spirit look like having a major impact on the ante-post markets. The fear for all trainers over the next few weeks will be giving their charges too hard a race in their prep.
With the Hennessy and trials for the Neptune, Triumph and RSA also on the card, Leopardstown on Sunday is the place for Cheltenham clues.
"The other Ricci horse I keep hearing about is Faugheen. If he's anything like as good as the Irish seem to think he is, Faugheen will win the Neptune. He's already down to 3/1 with Sky Bet and could well go off a very short priced favourite."
Let's hope Newbury beats the weather as this year's renewal of the Betfair Hurdle looks a cracker. I don't think there's a superstar like My Tent Or Yours in this year's field but it's a fiercely competitive renewal.
Nicky Henderson's charge was breathtaking in this race last year and remains near the head of the market for a vintage-looking Champion Hurdle. This will be the race of the season.
All the leading candidates have stood their ground through the campaign, which rarely happens for a big National Hunt race and let's hope they all get to Cheltenham in one piece.
The plot has also thickened with the possible participation of Annie Power and Un De Sceaux. I sense Annie Power's owner would love to run her in the Champion but I reckon he'll end up leaving that stage to Hurricane Fly and the lure and importance of having Ruby Walsh on board will persuade Ricci to go for the World Hurdle.
A race I think she will win. Annie Power is a monster. Fair play to Sky Bet for going non-runner no bet on the World Hurdle and I have backed her with that caveat at 11/4.
The other Ricci horse I keep hearing about is Faugheen. Even one of my pundits on Super Sunday was talking about him. If he's anything like as good as the Irish seem to think he is, Faugheen will win the Neptune. He's already down to 3/1 with Sky Bet and could well go off a very short priced favourite.
Red Sherlock was well backed for the race after beating Mullins' Rathvinden on Trials Day at Cheltenham but it quickly became apparent that that only seemed to increase confidence in Faugheen, suggesting Rathvinden was a fact finding mission with a bigger gun to fire at home.
Faugheen has not been tested over hurdles yet and in his prep supporters will want to see him jump more fluently than he has so far and in the back of my mind I also have Ricci's comment that Faugheen is "hard to keep right".
If he gets to the Neptune, I'm sure Irish punters will back Faugheen off the boards. Imagine the brilliant Mark Johnson on commentary exclaiming as they come down the hill: "and Ruby hasn't moved a muscle on Faugheen". Cheltenham will erupt. Less than five weeks to wait....