RETROSPECT BY LOGANATH VELLOO
SO, the battle for the English Premier League is going down to the wire.
It would take a foolhardy fan (or a hardcore Manchester United supporter) to predict that the title would not end up in the blue half of Manchester for the first time in 44 years.
Manchester City are in the driver’s seat and have done all the hard work after putting Newcastle (2-0) and the Red Devils (1-0) to the sword in their last two matches.
But as manager Roberto Mancini pointed out after Yaya Toure’s double sank the Magpies on Sunday, the title is not won yet and defending champions United are still hanging on to their neighbours’ coat-tails, albeit by the threads.
There is still the small matter of swatting relegation battlers Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad on Sunday before City can start celebrating.
Alex Ferguson’s team, who are level on 86 points but trail their neighbours by an eight-goal difference, are still in with a shout provided they beat Sunderland in their final game and hope for QPR to produce the unthinkable.
Adding to the drama is the fact that Old Trafford old boy, and Mancini’s predecessor, Mark Hughes is the man in charge of the struggling Rangers.
Besides needing a positive result to maintain their top flight status, Hughes will also be motivated by revenge. Sparky would not get a better opportunity at sticking it to his former bosses after having been ruthlessly sacked by City’s Arab owners in 2009.
Speaking prior to his team’s 2-0 win over Swansea, Ferguson admitted that City now have “two hands on the trophy”. But the Scot wants to believe that there could be another twist in the title chase.
“We’ll go to Sunderland to win, it’s our duty and responsibility,” he said. “Stranger things have happened in football. We just have to keep going with the right spirit. We’ve won the title on three occasions on the last day and we don’t mind doing it again. They’re red-hot favourites and will make sure they win the match, but QPR need a point and they’re fighting for survival. The whole future of the club could be resting on the game and I only wish Sparky was playing.”
The statistics certainly point towards blue ribbons adorning the trophy come Sunday. QPR have lost 13 of their 18 away league matches while City are unbeaten at the Etihad since December 2010 and have dropped just two points at home all season.
In the battle for the third and fourth Champions League berths, Chelsea were the biggest victors over the weekend despite not being in league action.
While the Blues were busy adding the 2012 FA Cup to their trophy collection, their top-four rivals all stumbled and failed to make much ground.
Third-placed Arsenal, on 67 points, were held 3-3 by Norwich while Spurs (66) could only manage a 1-1 draw with Aston Villa and remain fourth.
After losing to the league leaders, Newcastle (65), will now be hoping for at least one of the north London clubs to slip up in their final fixtures to steal a top four finish.
The Magpies will be away to Everton on Sunday, with Arsenal and Tottenham up against West Brom and Fulham, respectively.
But the trio will need to be wary of Chelsea, who can still end up with 67 points if they win their easier-looking matches against Liverpool (tomorrow) and Blackburn Rovers (Sunday).
But then, the Blues also have the added option of winning the Champions League final against Bayern Munich to secure a ticket to Europe’s top club competition at the expense of the fourth placed team.
In the battle for the drop, Blackburn might already be relegated by the time this article is printed if they had failed to win against Wigan early this morning.
Even if they had won, Steve Kean’s side are not out of the woods yet as a game against Chelsea looms on Sunday.
With bottom-placed Wolves already condemned, Bolton need to collect three points at Stoke or face the same consequence.
With so much still at stake on the final day of the season, let’s brace ourselves for an explosive Sunday.
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