If Manchester City avoid defeat against West Ham at home on Sunday they will win the Premier League for the second time in three years. Momentum is a massive factor in sport and nine minutes at Selhurst Park on Monday night have totally changed the dynamics of the end of the season. Liverpool conceded three goals against Crystal Palace and virtually handed the title to City.
Manuel Pellegrini was given a target of five trophies in five years when he became the manager of City last summer. His side have already won the Capital One Cup so he could say he is on target. However, there were suggestions he might lose his job if City don’t win the league. That looks a hypothetical scenario now as they surely must beat West Ham.
The Hammers are safe from relegation and cannot qualify for Europe. In theory they have no incentive or motivation to offer a challenge but the same could be said of Crystal Palace on Monday. Professional pride and prize money could be factors for West Ham but City will be more committed to their cause.
At the beginning of February City were being backed to win the quadruple. They were eliminated by Barcelona in the last sixteen of the Champions League in a tie that turned on a sending off and a disputed penalty. Losing to Wigan again in the FA Cup was more inexcusable but at the time maybe Pellegrini was focused on the league.
Over the course of the season City have been just about the best side despite Liverpool’s late run. They have now scored 100 league goals in 37 matches and they average more than three goals a game at home. Liverpool have scored just one goal less in as many matches but have conceded twelve more. It’s significant that City have not let in a goal in their last two matches while Liverpool have conceded five.
Football supporters all around the country will never let Steven Gerrard forget his mistake and slip against Chelsea that led to the first goal at Anfield last Sunday. Brendan Rodgers accused Jose Mourinho of parking two buses but winning football matches is about defence as well as attack. It was a Mourinho master class to beat Liverpool but Chelsea can now not win the Premier League this season.
The Special One’s job is safe but it will be interesting to see how he fairs if Chelsea don’t win the Premier League or Champions League next season. Roman Abramovich has already sacked Mourinho once and he is not known for his tolerance or patience when the club he finances do not win a major honour.
The obvious flaw in the Mourinho project at Chelsea this time is the lack of a regular goalscorer. Fernando Torres continues to sulk and Demba Ba Samuel Eto’o have not been prolific. The modern Chelsea blueprint is about defence and teamwork but they need a consistent striker to convert their rare chances especially in matches away from home.
Mourinho is no fool and surely realises his side cannot compete at the highest level without a player who can score more than 20 goals a season. Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid seems likely to move to London but there are other area that need attention. John Terry and Frank Lampard look like getting one year contracts but eventually Mourinho must live without his stalwarts.
If the Premier League season for Liverpool turned on Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea the capitulation against Palace was just about the final crucial factor. At 3-0 up after an hour they went for more goals rather than managing the game and taking the three points. They assumed they could score more goals to improve their goal difference but that inspired Palace.
Palace had nothing to play for in the match in the context of qualifying for Europe and avoiding relegation. Prize money for a team’s finishing position may have been a factor. They were suggestions they were motivated when Liverpool believed they could score more goals at will. The third goal was not celebrated by the Liverpool players as they rushed back up the field waiting for Palace to start the game again before looking for further goals.
Liverpool would have been worthy champions and all is no lost just yet. Gerrard more than most appreciates the significance of winning the league in the year of the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster as he lost a close relative that day. However, romanticism counts for nothing in elite sport and the harsh realities of football have been seen in Liverpool’s last two matches.
City did not score in the first half of the must-win game against Aston Villa. However, they were creating chances and it was inevitable a goal would come. They never lost belief or shape and an attacking policy was rewarded with four goals. A draw now suffices against West Ham but it might be unwise not to try and win the match on Sunday.
Two yeas ago City needed to beat Queens Park Rangers to win the league if Manchester United beat Sunderland. They scored the decisive winning goal in injury time but surely the title will be decided long before the end of Sunday’s match. Bizarrely City could lose to West Ham and still win the league if Liverpool are beaten by Newcastle.
In the last two weeks Liverpool and City have both been long odds-on to win the league. The odds could fluctuate again during the matches that start at the same time on Sunday. A goal in either match could change things and the most dramatic swing would be if West Ham score first. A more like scenario is that City will take the lead, score again and take the tension out of the situation. But Liverpool will still hold on to the belief that stranger things have happened.