Michael Essien England International Joe Cole has told Setanta Sports that Chelsea could be right on Manchester United's case had Michael Essien been fit all year.
A ruptured anterior cruciate ligament sustained in early September meant that Luiz Felipe Scolari and then Guus Hiddink were without Essien's services until his return to duty against Coventry in this month's FA Cup quarter final.
What a return it has proved to be. Essien has started the next two games and scored twice in the process, receiving particularly widespread acclaim for his performance against Manchester City on Sunday.
Speaking in the aftermath of that game, Cole, himself out with a similar injury until at least pre-season, felt it impossible to underplay the impact the Ghana midfielder has on The Blues.
“It's so difficult, I'm so pleased with him because we've got the same injury,” he told Setanta Sports 1. “To see him go out there and perform like he has, not just today but in the week in Turin [against Juventus], he was different class.
“You know how hard you've got to work as a footballer to get back from an injury like this. For him to perform like this is a credit to himself and the medical team.
“What we've missed is that little bit of pace in the midfield this year. We've been talking about getting tight to teams but he's breaking up the play, he's linking the play – he does a bit of everything. Any team would miss him, he's our engine room.
“We've struggled with injuries but that's no excuse – we've got the squad to deal with it. We've got players like Ballack, Deco, Lampard and Mikel. These are four world-class midfielders.
“But Essien would have made a difference. With him in the squad maybe we'd have had an extra five or six points.”
Liverpool's surprise 4-1 win at Old Trafford on Saturday lunchtime means that they and Chelsea are four points adrift of United, having both played a game more.