Manchester City & United Ensure a Thrilling Premier League Finale: A Look Ahead to the Final Day of the Season
What Saturday’s Premier League action lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality. A late Norwich equaliser in their match against Arsenal provided the perfect stage for Sunday’s action.
Tottenham’s fate was now firmly in their own hands; win their remaining two games and third spot was theirs.
Equally, Newcastle’s ambitions for a Champions League spot were further ignited after Arsene Wenger’s men dropped points, which meant Manchester City’s title bid would be put through the rigours in their clash at the Sports Direct Arena.
Such has been Manchester United’s dominance in recent years, that it has become unclear whether the gentleman in the pub cheering enthusiastically whenever City attack is in fact a City fan, a Liverpool fan, or simply a spectator supporting a buck in the recent trend.
Whichever the case, these fans were forced to wait until the 70th minute on Sunday for the deadlock to be broken, Yaya Touré’s curled effort from outside the box nestling neatly in the bottom right corner of Tim Krul’s goal.
City were faced with a decision; continue to attack and try to kill the game off, or sit back and defend their 1-0 score line.
They chose the former, and after Sergio Aguero squandered two good chances, Touré doubled his and his side’s tally in the final few minutes of the game.
Advantage City, now it was Manchester United’s turn to keep up the pressure on their local rivals.
United duly obliged; first half goals from Paul Scholes and Ashley Young did little to dent the goal difference, but enough to ensure the title race would go to the final day of the season.
That now leaves the race in a tantalising position. City face up to QPR at Eastlands on Sunday knowing that victory will secure the blue half of Manchester their first league title in 44 years.
Manchester United meanwhile, travel to Sunderland with the task of needing three points to keep their hopes alive. They are relying on relegation-threatened QPR taking at least a point from Eastlands, and with ex-City men Mark Hughes and Joey Barton stating their intentions this week to spoil the Citizen’s party, it is not yet cut and dry.
Elsewhere in the league, Tottenham’s galvanised performance against Bolton last midweek, shortly after speculation about Harry Redknapp taking the England job stopped, proved to be mere coincidence, as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Aston Villa, leaving them a point behind Arsenal.
Interestingly, on the same day, QPR won their match against Stoke, keeping their survival dreams well and truly alive, and Fulham showed Manchester United how to beat Sunderland, with the London side running out winners in a match that ended 2-1.
The week’s results prove a stark reminder that the league is not all over and the old cliché of a side “with nothing to play for”, and one “battling for their lives” may prove the difference on the final day.
With Wigan’s victory at Blackburn relegating the Ewood Park club and ensuring Roberto Martinez’ side for yet another season in the Premier League, the relegation battle now hinges on the result at Eastlands and the outcome of the game between Stoke and Bolton at the Britannia. If Owen Coyle’s men win, QPR will need to avoid defeat in the title decider.
With Stoke positioned safely in mid-table, it is quite conceivable that the men from the Reebok can pull off a huge victory and beat the drop, just as Wigan did so memorably at the same stadium on the final day of last year.
In the race for the top four, Chelsea were ruled out of contention after their humbling at Anfield last night. Andy Carroll inspired the Reds to a 4-1 triumph, meaning Roberto Di Matteo’s team have to now win the Champions League if they are to be dining at Europe’s top table again next year.
The Blues will finish sixth, whilst Liverpool’s win moves them to within a point of local neighbours Everton, meaning another interesting sub-plot on the final day. If Everton beat Newcastle, they will finish above their fierce rivals for the first time in seven years.
The Magpies though are looking for the three points to keep their Champions League qualification hopes alive. With Arsenal facing a tricky trip to the Hawthorns for what will be incoming England manager Roy Hodgson’s final game in charge of West Brom, and Tottenham playing host to a dangerous Fulham team, there promises to be a number of twists and turns in the race for the top four. Just two points separate the three teams in contention going into Sunday’s final round of games.
It is perfectly conceivable that the league title, the relegation battle, and the race for third and fourth could all be decided on goal difference, making for one of the most exciting last days of the season to date.
Matt Davies & Jamie Jubon