Manchester City and Liverpool are battling for the title on the final day of an unpredictable campaign with the Reds desperate for former man Andy Carroll and West Ham to help out
By Greg Stobart
It has been a season defined by its twists and turns, its sheer unpredictability. After 370 games and 1024 goals, it deserves an appropriately thrilling final day.
Could Manchester City and Liverpool deliver one final twist in a title race that has seen the lead change 26 times?
The Premier League script-writers – and Jose Mourinho probably thinks they exist – will hope that City can again display some of the jitters that made for such an electrifying last day in 2012.
Whether it is the bedlam of City’s last-gasp win over QPR two years ago or Liverpool’s miracle in Istanbul, both of the title protagonists know that nothing is impossible in football.
The City supporters will always live in perpetual fear of ‘Cityitus’, the club’s proclivity to make a mess of opportunities, to put their supporters through the mill.
They face West Ham on Sunday a year to the day since their shock FA Cup final defeat to relegated Wigan at Wembley. Disaster has only ever been a second away for this club – and fans will always remember how close they came to missing out on the Premier League title two years ago before Sergio Aguero’s dramatic winner in added time.
Manuel Pellegrini is on the verge of winning his first title in Europe with a team that has scored 100 goals this season and played with a calmness and distinction that reflects the personality of their manager. In contrast to the sheer emotion of Liverpool’s title challenge, City’s season has been defined by their professionalism and maturity.
After a rocky start away from home, the Chilean has settled the ship and guided City to this stage by steering them to victories in high pressure situations with City always playing catch-up due to games in hand.
City will expect a coronation on Sunday. This team’s experience of winning the title should stand them in good stead as they target a second Premier League triumph in three seasons.
Pellegrini’s side only need a draw against West Ham thanks to their superior goal difference over Liverpool, who face Newcastle at Anfield.
Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager, knows it is a long shot. He has tried to put some pressure on City by talking up West Ham’s chances and pointedly alluding to his title rivals’ huge wage bill.
And should the Hammers take the lead at the Etihad Stadium, who knows what might happen?
Between them, they have easily been the best two sides this season. They have scored 199 goals between them and both entertained with exciting attacking football, with Liverpool’s 3-2 win over City at Anfield last month comfortably the highest quality match of the campaign.
The Reds fans who supported the club’s quest so fervently will arrive at Anfield on Sunday afternoon still believing a first title in 24 years is not beyond them. For so long it felt like their year to make history, then Steven Gerrard slipped against Chelsea.
Liverpool should brush aside Newcastle and will then rely on the biggest of favours from West Ham. City will have to be patient and professional to handle the pressure, just as they were in the 4-0 home victory against Aston Villa on Wednesday night.
In total, City have spent just 15 days at the top of the table, as pointed out by Arsene Wenger as he suggested Pellegrini’s men had sneaked up to win the title at the end of a marathon. The Gunners spent the longest period at the summit of the Premier League – 128 days – but it always felt like they were keeping the seat warm for one of their rivals.
All of the other major issues are decided as we enter the final day. Arsenal have finished fourth to lock in the Champions League place, while Cardiff and Fulham are relegated and preparing for life in the Championship next season, with Norwich sure to join them.
If Tottenham get a point against Aston Villa, they will finish sixth and clinch a place in the Europa League over Manchester United, probably to the relief of United’s incoming manager Louis van Gaal.
Elsewhere, some goodbyes will be said.
The likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Bacary Sagna and Adam Lallana could play their last matches for clubs where they are heroes. Ryan Giggs is yet to confirm whether he will play on next season for Manchester United under Van Gaal.
Tim Sherwood, Sam Allardyce and Pepe Mel are among the managers who could be bidding farewell to their supporters on Sunday afternoon.
But most eyes will be on the Etihad Stadium, where Pellegrini “expects” City to win the title. The Premier League trophy will be there ready for its presentation and the champagne will be on ice.