Liverpool pray for final twist in thrilling title race
Premier League preview: the title is Man City’s to lose, but could complacency cost them dear?
After nine months and 37 matches we’ve reached the last day of arguably the most open Premier League title race ever. Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all led the pack at various times – the Gunners spent the longest out in front, with 128 days – but it’s Manchester City who have timed their tilt at the title to perfection.
Or have they? All the Sky Blues need is a point from their final encounter, but might complacency creep into the Etihad when they host West Ham?
Twenty-five years ago Ian Rush was a member of the Liverpool side that welcomed Arsenal to Anfield when the Gunners needed to win by two goals to snatch the title from under the noses of their Merseyside rivals. In one of the most dramatic denouements in English football, the Gunners did just that in the dying minutes, and Rush has called on Liverpool to draw inspiration from that defeat on Sunday.
“Sometimes when you’re simply hanging on and not needing a win on the final day, then it can be dangerous,” he said. “If we had needed to beat Arsenal on the final day of the season in ‘89 then we would’ve done…there will be another twist and turn. I fully feel that will happen but Liverpool have got to be in the position to capitalise on any slip-up.”
Manchester City v West Ham
The maths is simple for Manchester City. Avoid defeat against the Hammers and the title is theirs on the final day of the season, as it was two years ago when Sergio Aguero fired them to glory with practically the last kick of the game against Queen’s Park Rangers. Should the Sky Blues lose, however, and Liverpool beat Newcastle then the title goes to Merseyside for the first time since 1990. “We have to concentrate on Sunday,” declared Edin Dzeko, City’s two-goal hero in their 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa on Wednesday. “We have to take the last game very seriously because it will be very tough and we will give everything.” City have beaten West Ham three times already this season – 3-1 in the league and 9-0 over two-legs in the League Cup, but their Argentine defender Pablo Zabaleta believes they must still be on their guard. "We know West Ham are safe [from relegation] but they have very good players and can score at set-pieces," he said. “But I think the spirit is great…[and] we have a great chance and you can see all the fans are excited. Hopefully, on Sunday, we can celebrate the title."
Liverpool v Newcastle
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is putting a brave face on his side’s late falter in the race for the title. Defeat to Chelsea a fortnight ago and then Monday’s dramatic squandering of a three-goal lead in the 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace has all but handed the crown to Manchester City. “To be successful you have to be able to lose," reflected Rodgers, whose side had compiled an 11-game winning streak before the Chelsea defeat. "If you look over the years the great winners have been teams and individuals who have lost and gone on to become champions again. For us we have made great strides this season and…we've qualified for the Champions League but there is an awful lot more we want to achieve."
Norwich v Arsenal
A week ago this was one of the fixtures flagged up as a nail-biter. But Everton’s defeat to Manchester City, coupled with Arsenal’s victory over West Brom, ensured the Gunners will finish fourth and secure the all-important last Champions League qualification spot, the 17th consecutive season that Arsenal will play in Europe’s showpiece tournament. As for Norwich, they were looking pretty safe to stay up last month but that was before Sunderland embarked on their extraordinary unbeaten streak. Away wins against Chelsea and Manchester United , together with a draw against Manchester City, has propelled Sunderland out of the danger zone, and Wednesday’s defeat of West Brom means they are now safe while Norwich are all but doomed after a three-year stay in the top-flight. The Canaries need a mathematical miracle against the Gunners: not only must they win by a hatful of goals but also rely on Stoke to thrash WBA so that combined, the results cancel out West Brom’s superior goal difference of 17. It ain’t going to happen.
Southampton v Manchester United/Tottenham v Aston Villa
Victory over Hull in midweek has given United an outside chance of leapfrogging Spurs into sixth spot and qualifying for next season’s Europa League. Three points behind the north London side, but with a vastly superior goal difference of 20, United must beat Southampton and hope that Tottenham lose at home to Aston Villa. Were that to happen, both clubs would finish the season on 66 points but United would grab sixth spot. Normally there are three English clubs eligible for the Europa League: the club that finishes fifth in the Premier League, the FA Cup winners and the League Cup winners. But because Manchester City won the League Cup, as well as finishing in the top four of the Premier League, their place as cup winners goes to the club finishing sixth. The same rules don’t apply to the FA Cup Final, however, so were Arsenal to beat Hull on Saturday week, rather than the club finishing seventh in the Premier League getting the Gunners place in the Europa League, it will be Hull who go forward into the competition next season.
But regardless of whether United finish sixth or seventh, their points haul for the season will be their lowest ever in a Premier League campaign, their previous worst being the 75 points they accumulated in the 1996-97 and 2003-04 seasons.
Sunday’s other games:
Fulham v Crystal Palace
Hull v Everton
Sunderland v Swansea
West Brom v Stoke
All matches kick off at 3pm