Fair enough, Brendan Rodgers may have faltered with his singular, attack minded approach to the match against Chelsea at the weekend – especially when one considers that Jose Mourinho applied the same tactics against Manchester City at the Etihad a few games ago and succeeded.
All that said, Liverpool maintain their position at the Premier League’s summit and have only two games to play against Crystal Palace and Newcastle. These matches may yet prove the undoing of Liverpool’s title tilt as Newcastle United always make for exciting opposition on Merseyside, while Crystal Palace will a) seek to avenge the loss to Manchester City, and b) Tony Pulis has simply been a revelation for Palace since assuming the reigns in November 2013.
Crystal Palace also claimed three points against Cheslea at Selhurst Park in March this year, and will be keen to prove, like Stoke City, that they are capable of taking points off the big teams.
Manchester City, though favorites now to claim the league title for the second time in three seasons, will still be thoroughly examined by Everton, Aston Villa and West Ham. Given that Villa now find themselves in the thick of the relegation battle, and City have already come unstuck against Sunderland who are in a similar position, will make matters interesting.
Everton, meanwhile, are unlikely to make life easy for City at Goodison Park on Saturday, meaning that the Premier League title is still up contention for the three top clubs.
This is my examination of each title contender’s remaining matches:
Everton vs Manchester City:
City travel to Goodison Park on Saturday evening to take on Everton who have been derailed somewhat in their chase for a top-four finish. Roberto Martinez’s team have been in fine fettle this season and have won eight of their last ten games, but two losses in their last three may have served to dent their confidence ahead of the clash with Man City.
Martinez though has proved a fine manager able to extract the best from his players in the face of adversity, and is likely to have a full-strength squad to choose from as Leighton Baines has returned from injury, Romelo Lukaku is a perennial nightmare for defenses, while Steven Naismith and Kevin Mirallas have also been in good scoring touch.
Meanwhile, City have welcomed the return of Yaya Toure to their midfield, alongside the frees-scoring Sergio Aguero. In fact, Aguero, Toure, Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo have all scored more than twenty goals apiece this season – a phenomenal achievement.
However, City may yet count the cost of having both Negredo and David Silva sidelined through injury as they face an Everton side that has lost only two home games all season amidst scoring two goals per game at home. It should also be considered that Everton have conceded less than a goal per game at Goodison this term.
Though Stevan Jovetic has proved an adequate replacement for City when called upon, and Toure has, at times, singlehandedly snatched victory for City from the jaws of defeat, Everton’s home record may prove too much for title chasing City come the weekend.
Prediction: 2-2. Nerves will play a role in this one for both teams as Everton attempt to find a route back into the top four, whilst Manchester City aim to regain top spot. As Yaya Toure seems to pull the strings for City in David Silva’s absence, Everton may well sneak a result if they can keep him honest.
City should keep an eye on: Kevin Mirallas, Romelo Lukaku, Steven Naismith and Ross Barkley.
City against Aston Villa:
This too could be a game that puts the skids on City’s title hopes. As mentioned previously, Sunderland have already given Manchester City ‘the blues’ at the Etihad, proof that relegation strugglers always make for tough opposition in the latter stages of a league season.
As the Villans, now only three points clear of the drop, will seek to restore their hopes of survival by repeating Sunderland’s heroics, City will be wary of allowing lightning to strike twice on their home turf.
In fact, Aston Villa have shown considerable mettle against the top sides this season as they’ve beaten both Chelsea and City at Villa Park, drawn against Liverpool at Anfield, and beat Arsenal at the Emirates on the opening day of the season in August.
Worryingly for the Villa faithful is that their last league victory came in the match against Chelsea – seven games ago – and City will be keen to prove that they are made of sterner stuff than their fellow title chasers.
Prediction: 3-1 to City. Though Aston Villa have enjoyed a long life in England’s top flight and will fight tooth and nail to maintain that run this season, this is a match likely to end in defeat for the Villains.
City should keep an eye on:Christian Benteke is always a threat, even when out of form, and Gabriel Agbonlahor consistently provides power and pace. Fabian Delph and Andreas Weimann should also be watched closely.
City to close against West Ham:
Similar to Aston Villa, West Ham United have shown on occasion this season that they too are for challenging the Premier League aristocracy, having held Chelsea to a goalless draw at Stamford Bridge before narrowly losing to Liverpool and giving Everton a close run match at Goodison Park to boot.
I’ve stated in a previous article that Sam Allardyce is one of the best managers in the league and will seek a repeat performance of the one that left Jose Mourinho spitting fire in the post-match interview following West Ham’s draw at Stamford Bridge.
Manchester City, like Chelsea, have only lost one home game all season (against Chelsea incidentally) and though West Ham have players such as Matt Jarvis, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll that may present problems, City should simply have too much quality at the Etihad.
Then again, this will be the last game of the season, and there are always surprises in store on the last day. City themselves will attest to this as it was a stoppage time strike on the last day of the season that won their last league title.
West Ham have virtually guaranteed their Premier League place for next season, so may not have too much to play for on the day. For this reason, I can only see one victor ahead of this match – Manchester City.
Prediction: 3-0 to the Citizens. Manchester City will not want their home record further tarnished by a bottom-half team, especially when there’s a league title to be won.
City should keep an eye on: Andy Carroll often makes a nuisance of himself, and Kevin Nolan still has a willingness to pop up when least expected, but that aside City should coast to victory over the Hammers on D-day.