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Home win's for my ex-clubs in the Premiership - 11/04/2003

   Thomas Gravesen
   Bolton Wanderers
   Manchester United
   Newcastle United

The three clubs where I spent the vast majority of my career are all fighting at the top of their respective league’s – Newcastle and Chelsea in the Premiership, and QPR in Division Two. I’m going for three home wins this weekend.

Chelsea have had a mixed couple of years, but I think that Claudio Ranieri is starting to get the best from a star studded squad. The media have picked up on the inconsistency of the team, but gradually this has been rectified. In finishing 4th this season I think most would call that success, but one place below means failure. There’s often a very fine line between success and failure, but with Champions League qualification to play for, the distance between 4th and 5th is massive!

Chelsea need the Champions League like never before, there’s the obvious financial benefits, but there’s also the prestige of qualification. The club needs to hold onto it’s best players, and the task of persuading them to stay is made much easier with the carrot of playing in the world’s elite club competition. Similarly, if money is available to strengthen, then you can imagine one of the first points Ken Bates or Ranieri will make to prospective newcomers will be the chance to compete in the Champions League.

Looking at the side, there are three genuinely world class strikers fighting for two places – a nice problem for any manager. In midfield I think Frank Lampard has been excellent this season, and the quality of defensive players at the club is undoubted. However, it’s all very well having a strong side on paper, it’s on the pitch where it counts. Saturday’s game against Bolton will not be easy, the North West club are fighting for the Premiership lives and in a very decent run of form. I love the way Bolton play, Sam Allardyce is younger manager who’s prepared to gamble – bringing in Djorkaeff last season and a wonderfully skilful player in Okocha this time around. When on song, they’re great to watch and it promises to be a good game of football. Chelsea should be too strong though, and they’ll be focused on the points needed consolidate their place in the top four, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a home win.

Two other club’s in the top four, Newcastle and Man Utd also meet. This will be another cracker, and I’m interested to see how the Man Utd players react to the defeat in Madrid. I was watching the game on TV and could hardly believe my eyes, I can honestly say that some of the football played by Real was the best I’ve seen in my life – they seemed to have the same confidence and ability of the 1970 Brazilian national team. I was trying to ring people up to tell them to watch the game – it was simply that good. My Dad missed it as he was at a Charlton reserve game, he’ll have to get hold of a videotape! It looked as if the Man Utd players were in awe of Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo etc. It was Zidane who was the pick of a very good bunch, he provided a master class of football with his balance, pace and strength.

How the United players react to the game has yet to be seen. They have to be tired, they chased the game for a full hour and that will have taken it out of them. As a result I feel that Newcastle can win it. Their home record is absolutely fantastic and they’ll also be fired up after Sunday’s defeat at Everton. The refereeing decision was as amazing as Gravesen’s tackle. Thankfully he pulled away ever so slightly when he made contact with Bernard, and it’s just as well because I’m sure he’d have broken the Frenchman’s thigh-bone (which takes some doing). If the Newcastle flair players are on song, then it’ll be a great spectacle of football – I just wish I was there!

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