LONDON — Conspiracy theory one: Liverpool will let Chelsea win at Anfield tomorrow because it does not want Manchester United to win its 19th title as it would put the Red Devils one ahead of the Merseysiders.
Conspiracy theory two: Sunderland will go easy against Manchester United because its manager Steve Bruce used to play for the Reds.
As the Premier League season comes to a thrilling finale, the above topics have been discussed at length in English newspapers and on radio phone-ins. At times you have to wonder if those who can even think of such ludicrous assumptions yet alone have the nerve to write or talk about them have been using non-commercially available tobacco.
Imagine Rafa Benitez’s team talk before the game against Chelsea.
“Boys, we don’t want Manchester United to win the title. They are our big rivals so we would rather Chelsea be champions. Enjoy the game but don’t try as hard as usual. Jamie . . . Stevie . . . no big challenges.”
And at the Stadium of Light, Steve Bruce: “Hey guys, you know I love United, spent the best time of my playing career there. They have a special place in my heart. Fergie taught me so much and, hey, you never know, I might even succeed him one day. Beating United could harm my chances so do your best today — just don’t make it too good, OK?”
That, in effect, is what the conspiracy theorists are alleging. English football is not without its ills, but I would never doubt the honesty or integrity of its players or managers in this respect.
Many times we have heard at this time of the season, when a side challenging for the title is playing a team with nothing at stake, it will be easier. West Bromwich Albion, already assured of promotion to the Premier League, played relegation-threatened Crystal Palace last Monday and its professionalism shone through in the game that ended 1-1.
Albion was never going to do Palace any favors and it played in the same way as it has all season.
It will be the same for Liverpool and Sunderland. For a start Liverpool still has a mathematical chance of finishing fourth and qualifying for the Champions League, a huge incentive to win.
Does anyone seriously think it would prejudice that because it doesn’t want United to win the title?
Apparently so, just as some think the Sunderland players might not give their all to beat the biggest scalp in English football.
Liverpool supporters may, for once, be happy for their team to drop points, but the players and manager will not want to leave themselves open to any accusations of unfair play.
What professional would want to be part of The Team That Didn’t Try To Win?
It is utter tosh to think that anyone representing Liverpool or Sunderland will give anything less than 100 percent.
In fact, by even suggesting this the doubters have lessened any chance of Liverpool or Sunderland taking their eye off the ball — which was zero anyway — but anyone daft enough to believe anything may happen would not be intelligent enough to think it through.
Meanwhile, back in the real world . . . if Chelsea beats Liverpool and then Wigan at home, it will be the champion.
United must defeat Sunderland and then Stoke at Old Trafford and hope Chelsea slips up. Though Chelsea’s fate is in its own hands I suspect Sir Alex Ferguson would not swap the Blues’ situation for United’s.
Accepting that both will take care of Wigan and Stoke at home, visiting Anfield will be more difficult than playing at the Stadium of Light. If Chelsea only draws against Liverpool, and United collects maximum points against Sunderland and Stoke the Premier League title remains at Old Trafford for a fourth consecutive year.
It may not be a vintage Premier League this season but it is one of the most exciting for years with the likelihood Chelsea and United will be slogging it out on the last day for English football supremacy.
PLAYERS ARE quick to tell journalists when there is a difference of opinion that they have played the game and we haven’t. Frank Lampard’s omission from the Professional Footballers’ Association’s Team of the Season is conclusive evidence that playing football does not necessarily make you a good judge.
The Chelsea midfielder has again scored 25 goals, his best ever total, and most Stamford Bridge regulars will confirm Lampard has been the Blues’ best player apart from Didier Drogba.
The Cote d’Ivoire captain was named in attack alongside Wayne Rooney, but the midfield chosen was Antonio Valencia (Man United), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Darren Fletcher (Man United) and James Milner (Aston Villa).
Milner, who is 24, was also named Young Player of the Year, which brings into question the PFA’s perception of young.
With the exception of Fabregas it would be difficult to put up a credible argument that the other three, as well as they have played, have been better than Lampard.
But I haven’t played the game.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.