Paul Parker

Time for Berbatov to prove his worth

Paul Parker

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MATCH OF THE WEEKEND: Manchester United v Chelsea

A lot has been made of the fact that whoever wins this match will win the title if they win all their remaining fixtures. I certainly believe that if United claim the victory then they will finish higher than Chelsea, but they may not necessarily win the league.

This is a game that Chelsea cannot afford to lose. Following their Champions League exit, winning the FA Cup will not be enough for them, and it may not be enough to keep Carlo Ancelotti in his job. Winning the final at Wembley will only be satisfactory for Roman Abramovich if it follows them lifting the Premier League trophy.

Chelsea have scored 12 goals in their last two matches, while United are coming into the game off the back of a crushing European defeat in Munich, but I'm not so sure that form will have a bearing on the result at Old Trafford. United have a history of winning domestic games that immediately follow European defeats.

However, John Terry will have breathed a sigh of relief when it transpired that Wayne Rooney will not be fit for this match. With so many other Chelsea defenders missing through injury, Rooney would certainly have caused them no end of problems. Now it's a case of whether his replacement can take his chance to contribute to United's title charge.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Dimitar Berbatov

The match against Chelsea is a huge opportunity for Berbatov to show what he can do for United in big games. Usually he gets left out of the starting line-up for such key clashes, as Alex Ferguson tends to go with just one man up front, namely Rooney.

He played very well against Bolton in United's last game, but his consistency for them has been poor. The Bulgarian will be under the microscope, not just with United fans, but among all followers of the Premier League.

Berbatov is yet to justify the big money United paid for him, which would be a British record were it not for Manchester City stealing in to buy Robinho at the end of the 2008 summer transfer window. If he had joined any other club for such a huge fee, the fans would have been right on his back a long time ago, because their club would have been so much more reliant on him.

Fortunately for him, United also have Rooney, as well and Cristiano Ronaldo last season, and they have been winning games and delivering for United while Berbatov has only been delivering occasional flashes of brilliance.

If Berbatov can turn in a match-winning performance that helps United to a fourth-straight title, then he will go a long way to quieting the dissenters who have expected so much more from him. If he doesn't, and United don't finish the season top of the table, plenty of fingers will be pointing at him.

UPSET OF THE WEEKEND: Birmingham v Liverpool

Birmingham got a fair slice of luck when they earned a 1-1 draw against Arsenal last weekend, but it goes to show what a tough place St Andrews is to visit for the top teams.

Liverpool will have no problem competing on what is a tight pitch, with Javier Mascherano and Lucas sitting in midfield, but they have shown on several occasions that they can struggle to break down sides that aren't interested in playing open football.

Alex McLeish is not going to abandon the system that has served them so well this season, especially now they are safe, so there is no reason for them to go out for the win and leave themselves more open for the likes of Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard to exploit them.

Off the back of a defeat in Europe, Liverpool may struggle to raise their game at an old-fashioned ground where the crowd are right on top of them.

Anything less than three points for Liverpool and their hopes of finishing fourth will all but evaporate, unless both Tottenham and City really fall away towards the end of the campaign.


After a 7-1 drubbing, no matter who it is against, any manager is going to seriously feeling the heat going into their next match. O'Neill will be especially feel the failure of that result at Chelsea because his team arrived there still carrying hopes of Champions League qualification, only to see them bashed from pillar to post and have their impressive defensive record dismantled within 90 minutes.

He has not had as much money to spend as some of Villa's immediate rivals, but he has been there long enough to look at his squad and truly call it his.

Despite that, and an abundance of talent in midfield, they still look very one-dimensional going forward, a lack the amount of quality among their strikers that their ambitions demand.

 One thing O'Neill does have in his favour is a dedicated squad of players that enjoy playing for him, and the lack of success that Gareth Barry has enjoyed so far since his drawn out departure has shown them that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

The recent stories about O'Neill's immediate future looked to have been whipped up by little more than paper talk. However, you do have the wonder how long the players, fans and club owner will tolerate the team continually falling short of its targets.

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