The title race took a serious twist this week with Man City dropping two precious points at home to relegation candidates Sunderland. Pellegrini’s side can now consider themselves third favourites for the title behind Liverpool and Chelsea.
Following their loss at Anfield, it was thought that a home game against Sunderland would represent an easy three points for the Citizens, but in reality it was anything but, with Samir Nasri popping up to at least partially to spare his side’s blushes after Connor Wickham had struck twice to give his side the lead.
Whether he likes it or not, serious questions will now be asked of Manuel Pellegrini. Their languid start to the biggest game of their season at Liverpool was somewhat surprising given how notorious the Reds have become at starting a game at breakneck speed, whilst their inability to deal with Sunderland in their own backyard is frankly unforgiveable.
In defence of his side, Pellegrini indicated that his players had still not got over the psychological blow landed on them after losing to Liverpool, but is that a legitimate excuse for such an expensively assembled side? Pellegrini is the man who is paid the big bucks to motivate his side, and given what was at stake, one would have thought that motivation would have been a relatively easy job against the Black Cats.
Ultimately, City are now all but out of the title race. They must cling onto the faint hope that the clash between Chelsea and Liverpool a week on Sunday results in a draw. This would give them a chance to fight their way back into it, but even then they would need both sides to slip up on another occasion for them to have a chance.
Of course, City’s failure on Wednesday is Chelsea and Liverpool’s gain with both sides now in a straight shootout for the title. If Liverpool can beat Jose Mourinho’s men at Anfield, they will almost certainly clinch their first title for 24 years. If Mourinho can mastermind another tactical victory as he did at City in February, then the Special One will feel confident of his side’s ability to overcome Norwich and Cardiff and clinch his third Premier League crown.
The title-deciding clash at Anfield is likely to be the game of the season. Two sides, with contrasting ideologies. The best defence against the current best attacking force is in the division. What is most intriguing about the game on April 27 is that both sides must go out to win. There have been times when Mourinho has been content to return home with a point after a visit to a rival, but those times have now passed. Nothing but a win will do for either side, and with that in mind, it’s likely to be a fascinating tactical battle.
Liverpool will surely come out of the blocks as they have done over the last two months, and if you were going to bet on a defence to keep out Suarez and co, it would have to be the miserly Chelsea back four, supported ably by Nemanja Matic and David Luiz. Rodgers’ side will attempt to finish the contest in the first half as they did against Arsenal, but the Northern Irishman will be acutely aware of the counterattacking threat posed by the trio of Eden Hazard, William and Oscar.
Whilst it is true that Chelsea’s visit to Anfield is likely to be the ultimate decider, we should not underestimate the other challenges that both sides will face, both before and after that game. Liverpool face Norwich, Crystal Palace and Newcastle in their other three games, whilst Chelsea will play Sunderland, Norwich and Cardiff. There are no easy games at this stage of the season, and both Rodgers and Mourinho will be very aware that any hint of complacency against these ‘lesser’ sides could well be punished severely.
In the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, this really is ‘squeaky bum time’. This is the time for heroes to stand up and be counted. What makes this title race all the more fascinating is that it is nigh on impossible to predict the eventual winner. Whilst Ferguson’s side invariably made it through this end-of-season stage to lift the title, they are not a threat this year, and the road is wide open for a new champion to emerge.
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!