City would be worthy winners, but Liverpool have bottled their best chance ever.
On Sunday the curtain will finally close on what has quite simply been the most breathtaking Premier League season since the First Division was rebranded in 1992.
We have seen a genuine four-horse race for the Premier League title, the capitulation of the most successful English side of all time, more than one ‘doomed’ side escape from the dead and the rebirth of one of English football’s fallen giants. Frankly, it’s been epic, and I really don’t want it to end.
But it must.
First things first though, there’s a bit of unfinished business to keep our eyes and ears well and truly on the Premier League this Sunday.
Despite Liverpool’s failure to win at Selhurst Park on Monday night, and City’s valuable win at home to Aston Villa on Wednesday, the fat lady certainly has not sung on the title race.
Sure, City are now in pole position, and just need a draw at home to West Ham in order to be crowned champions in Manuel Pellegrini’s first season in charge at the Etihad. It seems highly unlikely that Sam Allardyce’s side will be able to pull the rug out from under the Citizens, but the reality is that stranger things have happened in this season alone.
What is massively in City’s favour is the fact that they only require a point. Liverpool’s complacency was their undoing on Monday night as they squandered a two-goal lead and their 3-3 draw with Palace is perhaps the one result Rodgers will look back on and be truly disappointed with. He was tactically out-thought by Chelsea at Anfield, but the fact of the matter is that with the players at his disposal, and the three-goal lead that his side had built up in the first 75 minutes against Palace, the Reds really should have gone on to win the game comfortably.
As it is, they only garnered a point, and the net result of that is that City can play as cautiously as they like on Sunday afternoon against the Hammers. Allardyce is not a manager to throw players forward and there’s every chance that both men would settle for a goalless draw. Had Liverpool beaten Palace, they could have kept the pressure on City to go and get a result against West Ham. Whilst the league title was always going to be in City’s hands, Liverpool’s complacency has made the final day a whole lot easier for them.
But to be clear, it’s not a foregone conclusion; Liverpool do still have a chance of lifting their first league title since 1990, but their debacle at Selhurst Park has made that eventuality very unlikely indeed.
What will irk Rodgers the most is that there is every chance that his side will never have a better chance of winning the Premier League. Lest we forget, Liverpool have played a hell of a lot less games than their title rivals, but now that they are back in the Champions League, the Reds’ squad will have to cope with playing an average of two games a week for the entire season. This completely changes the complexion of a club’s season and as we’ve seen on many occasions, can lead to player burnout, more injuries and poor results.
There is also the fact that the other teams will most certainly strengthen and make life more difficult for Liverpool. City are a fairly complete side, but it seems likely they will strengthen their defence, Chelsea are likely to spend big on a striker whilst if reports are to be believed, United are buying a whole new team at a cost of around £200 million. Anyone who can predict what Arsenal do in the transfer market this summer truly is a soothsayer.
The point is, Liverpool have never had a better chance of winning the Premier League, and probably never will. That’s not to say they won’t, but there’s every chance Rodgers will look back on this season as the one that got away.
For City, things are bright. They’re likely to win the league, they’ve scored an incredible 100 goals in the division, and their football has been a pleasure to watch. It’s been a longer road for the Citizens since their oil-rich cash injection a few years ago, but with their current team and manager setup, there’s every chance that Pellegrini’s side could go on to become one of the great European sides over the next few years.
All they have to do is not lose to a Sam Allardyce side now …
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