x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Andrew Cole: I can't see Manchester United losing to Chelsea

There is more pressure on the team at the top but great teams can deal with pressure and I believe Man Utd will become champions.

For Chelsea to defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford, Frank Lampard, right, and Didier Drogba must not shrink in the spotlight.
For Chelsea to defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford, Frank Lampard, right, and Didier Drogba must not shrink in the spotlight.

Sunday's potential title decider between Manchester United and Chelsea evokes mixed memories for me. I scored the league-winning goal for Manchester United against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in 1999, and it is one of the highlights of my career.

I also failed to score at West Ham United in 1995 when Blackburn Rovers pipped us to the crown on a dramatic final day.

Had I done so we would have been champions. Ludek Miklosko, their goalkeeper, was unbelievable in the net for the Hammers that day. I hit a post but we couldn't get a winner.

I got hammered by the media for not scoring. I took too much of it to heart. I was devastated by how much flak was aimed at me because it implied that I wasn't committed to United. Just as Fernando Torres was supposedly brought in to win the European Cup for Chelsea, people who had said I had been brought in to win the championship were now saying that I had cost United the league.

The most famous title decider was in May 1989 when league leaders Liverpool hosted second place Arsenal, with the Gunners needing to win by two clear goals to snatch the trophy.

I was a cheeky Arsenal apprentice at the time and I remember the belief at the club well. The apprentices were banned from the first-team dressing room, but the first-team stars Michael Thomas and David Rocastle really looked after me so I saw a lot of the first-team players.

Our season had finished and I travelled back home to Nottingham, where I watched the game. Nobody thought Arsenal had the slightest chance because Anfield was a fortress, and Liverpool were in form and going for a second double in three years.

The mood was different around Highbury. I saw one of confidence and knew that Arsenal's plan was to get to 0-0 at half time and then throw caution to the wind.

It was 0-0 at half time. Arsenal were winning the psychological battle and with nothing to lose they attacked. Alan Smith put them ahead soon after the break and Liverpool's nervousness reflected that of the crowd.

My dad doesn't even like football but he was fixated by the television pictures. Liverpool's Steve McMahon told everyone that there was just a minute left. Liverpool would be champions … until two minutes into added-on time, my friend, Thomas, made one of his storming runs from midfield and scored. It was a super finish and Arsenal were champions.

Rocastle passed away a decade ago, but I'm still close friends with Thomas. He never talks about that goal. It's weird, it was the most dramatic end to a league season ever and he never mentions it.

I've grilled him about it. I wanted to score a goal that won the league like him. Isn't that every kid's dream? Yet Thomas is reluctant to talk about it. I think he had a bad time at Arsenal and didn't get on with the manager, George Graham.

He's far happier talking about Liverpool, where he played for seven years from 1991.

Looking ahead to Sunday's game at Old Trafford, Chelsea have nothing to fear and little to lose.

Nobody expected them to retain the Premier League title after their awful form in November and December, when they slipped from being clear at the top to fifth, but they've won 11, drawn 2 and lost just one of their last 14 games to get back in contention.

The pressure is off and they can throw caution to the wind.

United are still favourites to win the league and I believe they will become champions. There is more pressure on the team at the top but great teams can deal with pressure.

The gaffer [Sir Alex Ferguson] will have ranted and raved at the United players for losing at Arsenal last Sunday, but he'll have them totally focused for the Chelsea game.

He'll remind his players that they are leaders for a reason and that having reached the European Cup final they are on the cusp of a truly great season - and they beat Chelsea home and away en route to the final.

United lost to Chelsea in the league and Carlo Ancelotti's side started out well at Old Trafford in both halves of the European game, but that wasn't enough.

They have points to prove and they also have a good record at Old Trafford - where they won on the way to the title last season.

But their big boys need to turn up.

Frank Lampard was anonymous in the European Cup games against United.

Didier Drogba hasn't done much against United this season, though he got a consolation goal at Old Trafford last month.

It's a big game all right, but while Chelsea are the league's form team, I can't see United losing.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten