Drama at Dawn: English Premier League Update

      Set your alarm clocks to constitutional monarchy and your coffee to tea because here on the west coast, the drama of English Premier League starts promptly at 5:00 am. With just two weeks left in the 2009-2010 season, the excitement is building to a fever pitch. The title race looks likely to go down to the final day of the season as Chelsea lead Manchester United by just one point at the top of the table. The battle for the coveted fourth place Champions League spot is also still wide open as just two points separate four teams.

       After beating Manchester United 2-1 three weeks ago, Chelsea looked firmly in control with a four-point lead and a stronger goal difference over the Red Devils. However, things in the Premier League change faster than you can say tea and crumpets.

       Fourth place hopefuls Tottenham Hotspurs drove the title race to the wire after beating both Arsenal and Chelsea in the space of four days. With Chelsea held at 77 points, Manchester United took full advantage by edging their wealthy cross city rival and Champions League hopeful Manchester City with a classy 90th minute header from the evergreen Paul Scholes.

         The Red Devils continued to capitalize on Chelsea’s slip up by ending Tottenham’s giant slaying run and defeating the Spurs 3-1 at Old Trafford to temporarily take first place at 79 points. Manchester United may be without their bulldoggish talisman Wayne Rooney, but two penalties from old guard Ryan Giggs and a cool chip from Christiano Ronaldo wannabe Nani finished off the in-form Tottenham team.

       The first half proved uneventful but Spurs started the second half the better team. However, slack defending let a lackluster Manchester United into the game. A hot-headed challenge from Assou-Ekotto on Evra in the box gave United a chance to snatch an undeserved lead in the 57th minute. The class of ’94 Manchester United graduate Ryan Giggs stepped up to the penalty spot to slot the ball home to Gomes’ lower right hand corner.

       Tottenham’s perennially injured defender Ledley King made things interesting with a towering header to level the scoreline 1-1 with just 20 minutes to go. Nani was then slipped into the box by the young substitute Macheda in the 80th minute and Nani chipped Gomes to leave Spurs trailing 2-1.

          Even with an attack-minded line up from Spurs, a comeback always seemed unlikely. The warm day seemed to suck the energy out of the normally lively left midfielder Gareth Bale and clever central midfielder Modric. Even the reintroduction of the speedy England international Aaron Lennon after five months out from injury proved ineffective. A lazy challenge on Nani in the final moments of the game sent Giggs to the spot again to finish Spurs off for good.

         Elsewhere in England, a dejected Arsenal took on Manchester City in London at the Emirates in one of the most boring games of the year. Arsenal, who were effectively dumped out of the title race after losing 3-2 to Wigan Athletic last week, looked unmotivated. A win from City would see them leap over Spurs into fourth place, but a defensive-minded starting line-up without former Arsenal player Adebayor proved toothless. They played to a dull 0-0 draw, leaving Manchester City one point off fourth place at 63 points and Arsenal trophyless for a third year running.

         Chelsea reclaimed first place on Sunday after putting seven goals past mid-table team Stoke. Solomon Kalou claimed a hat trick, Lampard tucked two away, Malouda slotted one home from close-range and substitute Sturridge finished off the rout after rounding the keeper into an open net.

       Aston Villa beat Birmingham City 1-0 on a James Milner penalty in a hotly contested derby. This sends Villa to fifth place and equal on points with Spurs, trailing them only by goal difference.

        Liverpool officially relegated Burnley to the Championship division after a 4-0 thumping led by captain Steven Gerrard. They are still firmly in the race for fourth place and could have an even bigger role to play next week when they host Chelsea at Enfield. If Liverpool take full points off of Chelsea, Manchester United could very well take the title for the fourth year in a row.

         The fight for fourth place will go down to the wire as Aston Villa and Manchester City face off next weekend. City will have only a couple of days to recover as they then host Tottenham the following Wednesday in a crucial midweek tie.

         With both Chelsea and Manchester United surging to the finish line and a Champions League spot up for grabs, the English Premier League is proving to be the most exciting in years. Watch the drama unfold at the early hours of the day – you won’t be disappointed.