Inside the numbers
After the first two months of the season, it looked as though this was Chelsea's title to lose. The champions set off at a frightening pace, scoring goals galore, but suddenly the juggernaut ground to a halt.
They have not won in five game and the goals have dried up. After opening the campaign with consecutive 6-0 victories, they have managed only eight goals in their last 10 league games.
In stark contrast, Manchester United, last season's runners-up and Chelsea's opponents in this weekend's stand-out clash at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, have slowly been gathering pace after an indifferent start.
Draws have been United's main hindrance, as well as throwing away leads on several occasions, but they have won their last three Premier League games and are the only unbeaten team in English football this season.
Few observers would claim that this is a classic United squad, yet they quietly crept to the top of the table and a hardworking 1-0 victory against Arsenal, the previous leaders, on Monday night.
With a game in hand they suddenly have a chance of opening up a five-point lead over the chasing pack.
The Arsenal match was billed as United's big test, but in reality Sunday's game will be a more genuine barometer of their title credentials.
Arsenal have lost 10 and drawn one of their last 11 games against United and Chelsea, scoring just five times, so Monday's triumph for Sir Alex Ferguson's men was hardly unexpected.
However, United now visit one of their most unhappy hunting grounds in recent seasons - Stamford Bridge.
They have not won there in the league for nine seasons, losing five and drawing three of the subsequent eight matches. Hardly the kind of record to prompt thoughts of a United victory.
Football, though, is all about momentum and that is where United can draw hope.
As the wheels have started to fall off Chelsea's season, so United have stepped up a gear.
Thanks partly to a 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn Rovers, United have amassed 20 goals in the time that Chelsea have scored eight, they have won twice as many games as Carlo Ancelotti's men and made up nine points on their rivals.
This season's title race is going to be the closest for many a year, with three points separating the top four and Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers not far behind.
But United have a chance on Sunday to break clear of the field. Talking of a title being won in December is plain silly, but a United victory would likely have a more detrimental effect on Chelsea's season than anything else.
It just depends whether United choose to look at the record book or the form book for inspiration.
Allardyce was realistic and it cost him his job
One week on from Chris Hughton’s widely criticised sacking by Newcastle United and the Premier League witnessed the second managerial casualty of the season, one that also appears harsh.
Venky’s, the Indian poultry farmers who own Blackburn Rovers, gave “Big Sam” Allardyce the boot on Monday after almost two years in charge of the unfashionable Lancashire club and immediately set out objectives for their yet-to-be-named new manager – a top-five finish and attractive football.
That seems over ambitious for a club who do not have the resources or players to compete regularly with the league’s elite.
A plethora of football clubs in the area – Bolton, Burnley, Preston, Wigan plus further afield Manchester United and City – means Rovers are rarely able to fill their 32,000-seater stadium.
There are much bigger clubs in terms of fan base and catchment area languishing in the lower leagues.
While Allardyce’s tactics are industrial, he achieved results. In fact, since he took over the club in December 2008, after Paul Ince had left them floundering in 19th place and winless in 11 games, Allardyce’s record is remarkable.
Only last season’s top eight have earned more points than Blackburn during Allardyce’s period in charge (December 11, 2008 to December 13, 2010). Blackburn have scored more goals this season than Liverpool (22 to 21) and have conceded fewer at home (six) than both Tottenham and Arsenal.
Venky’s say that Allardyce was sacked because he did not “share their vision”. His vision – keeping a small club in the top division – was realistic. Venky’s vision is completely unrealistic.
Woe betide the man who has to fill Big Sam’s shoes.
Using his head
Ask a Premier League supporter who is the best header of a football in the division and Tim Cahill’s name will come up more often than not. The Everton midfielder has scored eight goals in the league this season, five more than his nearest teammate and just under half of the club’s total of 17. Five of his goals have been scored with his head from just seven headers on target. That is accuracy personified. And, if opposition manager’s need any help in stopping the Australian from scoring, they need only look at the source of four of those five goals – Leighton Baines, the left-back.
Baring the Brunt
Speaking of assists, Baines has six for the season and sits joint-fifth in the list with Chelsea’s Didier Drogba, Newcastle United’s Andy Carroll and Stoke City’s Matthew Etherington. Joint top of the list is one of the league’s most underrated players and a man surely destined for a step up to a bigger club. West Bromwich Albion’s Chris Brunt has assisted 10 of his side’s 24 goals this season from the left wing and must take credit for helping them make a tidy start to their return to the top flight. West Brom are 11th and must hope Brunt, who has also scored twice, stays fit for the season.
Chris Brunt (West Brom) 10
Nani (Manchester United) 10
Andrey Arshavin (Arsenal) 8
Peter Crouch (Tottenham) 7
Leighton Baines (Everton) 6
Andy Carroll (Newcastle) 6
Didier Drogba (Chelsea) 6
Matthew Etherington (Stoke) 6
Paying the penalty
The last round of matches produced penalty misses from players you would expect to score. Didier Drogba’s at Tottenham Hotspur cost his side two points. Wayne Rooney’s against Arsenal proved irrelevant as Manchester United still won. There must be something in the water – 33 per cent of penalties have been missed this season, compared to 21 per cent last campaign.