By Aidan Elder | Chief sports writer
‘They’ve been partying their pampered arses off since winning the league.’ That was the gist of the commentary as a sluggish Manchester United team were making Arsenal look like (rather short) rampaging Vikings for the first 20 minutes at the Emirates.
United pulled themselves out of their lethargy, but it does beg the question ‘with another title in the bag, what do the United players have to play for?‘ The chance of racking up a record points tally disappeared in north London. There aren’t many of them playing for their futures at the club. They may as well start polishing their best lines for getting an off-season spit-roast now. United have three contractual obligations to fulfill and nothing at stake:
- Sunday – v Chelsea (h)
- Sunday May 12 – v Swansea (h)
- Sunday May 19 – v West Brom (a)
Chelsea are the hungrier. The honour and more importantly, bonuses you get for playing in the Champions League aren’t yet secured. Yes you’d expect Tottenham to fall flatter than a Reginald D. Hunter gag at the PFA Awards in the last couple of weeks, but they may not and the Pensioners are best advised staying in the top four on their own steam. There’s a school of thought that backing the highly motivated team with plenty to play for is the better than the team who’ve been figuring out on what part of the mantelpiece to put their winners’ medal.
If you are banking on United taking the foot off the gas and lumping on Chelsea, you might want to think twice. The champions don’t tend to let up, even when they’ve got the silverware in the bag. The constant fear of a hair-drying from Dark Lord Fergie seems to provide all the motivation the players need to keep going until the summer holidays officially begin.
It’s backed up by the stats. In the years when they’ve won the Premier League title, they’ve played a total of 20 games that are dead rubbers (from their point of view at least). Of those 20 dead rubbers, United haven’t been beaten in 16, winning a rather impressive (considering they’ve nowt to play for) 11 games and drawing five.
They have tasted dead rubber defeat four times, but even that’s impressive because three of those four losses came in the 2000/01 season when United wrapped up the title with five games to spare and Fergie got really experimental giving Andy Goram one of his two appearances for the club and traumatising many young United supports by unleashing Luke Chadwick on the world. The sole other defeat was that West Ham game when Carlos Tevez scored at Old Trafford to send Sheffield United down and everyone to the courts.
Unlike our school days, the summer holidays don’t begin a couple of weeks before we actually get to leave. There’ll be no class outside, all day art class or other methods of dossing that were mainly just excuses for surly teachers to manufacture smoke breaks. Sir Ferguson doesn’t tolerate much in the way of slacking off at the best of times, let alone when Rafa Benitez is in town. Chelsea have more riding on it, but United’s impressive dead rubber record could motivate a few bets on Sunday’s hosts.