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John Giles: Fergie laughing his way to title

I'M sure Alex Ferguson must be chuckling to himself at the moment. In a season when he is least equipped to add silverware to his already considerable trophy count, his rivals are falling away one by one.

I think it is fair to say that if he can pull a Premier League title from this season, it will be one of the sweetest he has ever won and a feat of management to equal, if not better, anything he has done before.

In fact, if you line up the players who won titles for him before with the current crop, I don't think there is any comparison.

He knows himself that he has nothing like the playing resources he had when he banked previous titles and even the best players he can still call on have not performed in any consistent way since the season started.

But he also knows that his greatest rival, Carlo Ancelotti, is working with a squad in freefall at a club where from one day to the next, nobody truly knows what will happen.

Confidence is shot at Stamford Bridge and I don't see any way that Ancelotti can find a way to resolve his problems -- both on and off the pitch.

This is a ridiculous set of circumstances for any manager to work within and Ancelotti must be beside himself with frustration and anger.



Apology

He knows that the best thing his boss Roman Abramovich could do at this moment is to pick up the phone to Ray Wilkins and offer the most sincere and heartfelt apology he has ever made to anyone in his life for the appalling blunder he made six weeks ago.

He should offer Wilkins his old job with a salary increase and an abject apology and I could almost guarantee that Chelsea would benefit from an immediate lift.

I know Ancelotti is dealing with a reduced squad from last season and that he has lost men like Carvalho, Ballack and Deco without seeing equivalent replacements.

But there is a fundamental weakness in Chelsea's make-up now which was caused by Abramovich and can only be put right by the same man.

Ancelotti's authority was undermined when Abramovich sacked Wilkins and imposed his will. The coach is no longer comfortable with his staff and every day he and the players gather on the training ground, they are reminded of that fact.

They would not be human if they didn't feel compromised by the actions of the club owner.

But I must say, I am not holding my breath when it comes to the possibility of a climb-down. I don't think Abramovich does humility and that's what he needs right now in big doses.

Of course, Ferguson will pray that Chelsea continue to self-destruct and that he is left with Arsene Wenger as his major opposition.

He has bested the Gunners before and I think he will do it again if it comes down to a straight fight between Arsenal and Manchester United.

Ferguson has been able to achieve a consistency of results marginally better than everyone else which does not reflect the quality of his squad or the performance level of his best players.

A player like Dimitar Berbatov pops up with vital goals at the same time that his team-mate Patrice Evra tells us that he has to constantly wind the Bulgarian up to make sure he is at the right pitch for the Premier League.



Slagged

Clearly, he hasn't slagged Berbatov half enough because I still don't believe that he is the man who can deliver another title for Ferguson. He plays in fits and starts and I don't think any manager could rely on him. That's saying something for a player who cost £30m.

But in this strange season, it looks like no team will go on a 10-game winning run and that the crucial difference when push comes to shove will be in the quality of management rather than the quality of the playing staff.

I have no doubt that the massive upgrade achieved by both Manchester City and Spurs has given both Roberto Mancini and Harry Redknapp every reason to believe that they can win the title.

But I see them falling short just as I now see Chelsea falling short.

I think Arsenal's win on Monday night established Wenger as Ferguson's main rival for the season and at the same time, put an end to Chelsea's title aspirations.

I know this is a strange, strange season which will have a few more odd twists before we've seen the end of it but I'm now convinced that Manchester United are racing favourites and that the only real challenger left is Arsenal.


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