For 86 minutes, today's Premier League match between Manchester United and Chelsea felt like it was destined to finish as a boring, 0-0 draw. United looked like they didn't want to be there, though to be fair, that's understandable, since they wrapped up the league last month. Chelsea, currently embroiled in a battle with Tottenham and Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League, have everything to play for, but they've also played four matches in the last ten days thanks to their success in the Europa League.
So for 86 minutes, it felt as if the two sides were content to settle for a draw, until United showed why you can never trust a Manc to come through for you. A late, half-chance from Juan Mata trickled between United defender Phil Jones's legs, ricocheted past keeper Anders Lindegaard's outstretched arms, dinked off the post and rolled into the back of the net for the winning score. It was a goal every bit as momentous as it was soft, which is why the question following the Chelsea win is well, what the fuck happens now?
Before the match, Chelsea were in fourth with 65 points, two points behind third-place Arsenal and even with Tottenham. But after the win, Chelsea now sit in third place with 68 points. Arsenal is in fourth with 67 points. Tottenham sit in fifth with 65. Arsenal have only two matches remaining, and Chelsea and Tottenham have a game in hand on their London rival. That game is on Wednesday, where they'll be playing against each other.
Wednesday's match is the most important of the season for these three clubs, and could very well decide their fates. Chelsea are hosting Spurs, and if they win, they would have 71 points, four clear of Arsenal and six clear of Spurs with only two matches left. Because of goal differential, even if they lost their remaining two games, Chelsea would finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. If Spurs win, however, they'll slide to fourth and push Arsenal down to fifth. On paper, Arsenal have the easiest schedule left, with relegation candidates Wigan and Newcastle left on the calendar, but they would no longer control their destiny. A draw would create even more pandemonium, but let's cross that bridge if we get to it.
The Premier League race for Champions League qualification has reached peak ridiculousness. Over the last few weeks, we've chronicled as the tension has been ratcheted up with every result, and with the Chelsea/Tottenham match, it's finally ready to boil over. Two teams will make it through, but one club will get utterly dicked, and it will be amazing and tragic at the same time. There will be tears, but we won't know whose until Wednesday. Probably yours.