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The reign of Wayne

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Robbo Robson | 10:32 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010

It looks like it's got to be Chelsea's year after all. We seem to have been here two or three times already, where the Blues apparently have a cakewalk to the title, only for some lax defending to leave a furious John Terry gnashing his teeth like a tiger who's been put on a salad-only diet.

But you can't see United taking 12 points out of 12, so it's not going to matter if Chelsea do stutter again.

Football is a squad game these days, they tell us. I suppose that's true. The numbers one to 11 don't mean owt now, really. When Harry Redknapp says to Roman Pavluychenko: "Son, you'll be wearing the number nine shirt today," it means nowt. He always does. Your wearer of the number nine shouldn't be hiding his light under a sub's zip-up tracksuit top of a bushel.

But sentiment aside, it's been a season about individuals if you ask me; individuals who have proven to be the making or breaking of their team. You only have to look at the PFA nominations to realise how utterly vital these lads are.
Wayne RooneyUnited can't bear to be without Rooney
Wayne Rooney has been every bit the phenomenon we thought he might be when he appeared in an Everton shirt, half-man, half-bear, six seasons ago. If in football's great constellation he was an Ursa Minor, he's graduated this season to Ursa Major.

I doubt that there's a room without a ball in it in his mansion. I've always loved watching Rooney, even if sometimes it's from behind the sofa, 'cos of the way he lights up when the ball's at his feet. He's still a kid in the park at heart.

Man United without him have been half as good. Valencia has improved, Nani has his moments, but Berbatov's been a platinum chain around Fergie's neck, while the capture of Owen was pure hope over expectation. The twang of his hamstring sounded as predictably as the wife's oft-repeated phrase: "What time do you call this?"

Liverpool have suffered similarly in the absence of Torres. Benitez has done his best, I'm sure, to minimise the effect of his frequent absences, but it's been like trying to paint a masterpiece using grey and more grey. Gerrard's been less rampaging box-to-box dynamo and more side-to-side sulk this season - and Liverpool, Europa League aside, have been plain feeble.

At the Emirates, it seems as though Arsenal's best chance of glory was ripped away from them with Robin Van Persie's injury in November. And Wednesday night's was another of them adverts for the Arsenal way that must have your average Gooner chewing holes in his scarf.

All tippy-tappy, this way and that-y, and all the penetrative power of a day-old kitten pushing at a cat-flap.

He's an angular bloke, Van Persie, and Arsenal were sharper, smarter and, well, to put it bluntly, they had that shot at goal all of a sudden.

(Perhaps we should also take a moment to compliment the man who won last season's Vampire Award - awkward flapping and a fear of crosses - Heurelho Gomes. He could be the season's best keeper. He's bold and decisive these days and still has the reach of a successful marketing campaign.)

Both he and Fergie have done remarkably well this season. If they were dog-breeders, it'd be the equivalent of getting a cross-breed to the final of Crufts. It's been make do and mend for both of them.

Manchester City have been feeble without their poster boy, Carlos the Hackle. It'll be interesting to see how Tevez responds to his latest chance to trip, gag and bag the last vestiges of a title challenge.

Chelsea's almost inevitable success will be down to two things: Drogba, yes, but more importantly a deeper squad. You just compare the respective benches of the top teams.
Chelsea: no Drogba, we'll bring on Anelka. No Malouda, bring on Cole. Even (Hasungotta) Kalou has been seen celebrating in that irritating face-wiping gesture more times than you expect this season. (What's he doing exactly? Cleaning the visor on his motor-cycling helmet?)

United: No Rooney, we'll bring on some Bulgarian chiffon or a cocky child.
Arsenal: No Van Persie, well we've got Barn-Door Bendtner and his wedge-shaped boots.

Liverpool: No Torres to break down the opposition defence, well take your pick from this trio of inflatable comedy hammers - Kuyt, Babel and Ngodsname Ngog!
So yes, it is about squads these days, unless, that is, your star man keeps fit enough not to make it an issue. Chelsea have had enough injuries to see them falter, but enough wise heads to see them through.
Carlos Tevez billboard Carlos Tevez - poster boy
Their rivals are going to need some ballast for next year, but as Chelsea know and Manchester City will prove next season, in the land of the horribly debt-ridden, the owner of the bottomless pit is king.

Citeh already have a set of subs so expensive they could be make the Russian navy jealous. And it's only going to get worse for everyone else. That billboard of the grinning gaucho, Carlos, smacked of hubris, but I reckon it was only 12 months too soon.
And the Sky Blues are where my money is already at for 2010-11.

As for the candidates for PFA Player of the Year, well if I was a member of the PFA - and it's only ill luck that has prevented that from happening - oh, and beer intake - and a lack of talent - then my vote would be going to Wazza, absolutely.

Drogba's been immense but there have been the occasional feet-stompings and tizzy-fits that suggest only Supernanny could sort him out. Fabregas has been too often watching from the sidelines. Tevez sometimes comes across as a rather ill-treated Duracell bunny, and I still think he lacks a bit of nous.

Rooney has single-handedly kept United going this season. Without him, Fergie would be scrapping with Rafa for sixth spot. Give it to the Bear-Man!


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