And that – as far as the title race goes – appears to be that.
Man City’s 3-2 win at Goodison Park on Saturday evening (GMT) means that if the Citizens are able to extract six points from their two remaining fixtures, they will be crowned Premier League Champions for the second time in three years.
Given that their last two fixtures at both the Etihad, and against two bottom-half teams, it seems unlikely that Pellegrini’s men will fall at this final hurdle. There is of course a mathematical chance that City could still cede the title to Liverpool even if they did win both of their remaining games – if the Reds were able to claw back the nine goals that separate the two sides’ goal differences – but it would take a brave man to predict Brendan Rodgers’ side winning big at Selhurst Park on Monday.
Quite simply, it’s City’s to lose.
For the neutral, this really has been the most wonderful title race and the fact that City and Liverpool are the only two sides in with a genuine shot indicates that all is well in English football.
For too long, the Premier League has been dominated by sides favouring stodgy, defensive-minded football. In fact, an exciting team has not won the thing since the Manchester United side of 07/08.
Six years of stodge, six years of safety-first football prevailing. As Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas and other such precocious talents left the UK shores, there were plenty questioning whether the Premier League had peaked and was heading back down. No longer were the Premier League clubs able to attract the world’s best. No longer were they able to regularly compete in Europe (okay, this hasn’t changed yet!).
English football was decried as archaic, defensive and unimaginative. And it was. The reality is that while the Ferguson era brought substantial success for Manchester United, the final five years of his reign was characterised by a staid and solid gameplan: uneasy on the eye and full of cautiousness. Even the swashbuckling United were no longer setting the world alight.
This season, this has all changed. Manchester City and Liverpool have scored a quite frankly astonishing 96 goals each. Both sides have played attractive, attacking and free-flowing football. Neither side have been massively solid at the back, but then again, neither side has had to be. In essence, both clubs have subscribed to the ‘attack is the best form of defense’ strategy, and it has quite clearly paid dividends.
Look at City’s win at Goodison Park. Had Chelsea been tasked with delivering three points from that game it seems quite obvious that they would have played a cautious, counter-attacking game. City did anything but, throwing caution to the wind and having a real good go, delivering value for the fans at the game and all over the world.
Whoever goes on to lift the Premier League trophy, this season has been a watershed moment for English football. Both Pellegrini and Rodgers have been very clear on the fact that they believe in positive attacking football. Both men have put this into practice on the training field and on the field of play, and the visual result has been really quite remarkable. The gloss – which had been firmly rubbed off during Chelsea and United’s domination of the league – has been well restored. Football fans everywhere must hope that layer upon layer is added in the coming years.
This was the league that used to feature the football exhibitionists. Ronaldo, Henry, Cantona, Bergkamp: these are the players who make people fall in love with football. But in recent years these sorts of players haven’t wanted to come to the Premier League. We can suggest all sorts of reasons for this, but I believe that one is the clear lack of commitment to attractive football.
It’s a results game, of course it is, but at some point over the last few years, English football reached the stage where the end wasn’t really justifying the means. Teams were so desperate to win that they were happy to do it any which way, and the result was cautious, dull product.
The way that Liverpool and City have played this season has been a real breath of fresh air, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying this. Either side will be worthy winners of the league, and I only hope that when one of them is inevitably crowned champions, it inspires other teams to follow in their footsteps, rather than attempting new and duller ways to stifle the attacking game.
Time will tell, but English football looks to be in a much better place than the last few years. Long may it continue.
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