How time flies! The English Premier League (EPL) will come to an end tomorrow, 11th May 2014, but the champion is still to be determined.
Liverpool and Manchester City have been neck deep in the title, with free-scoring Liverpool in need of a near-miracle to claim their first EPL title of the modern era —and the first since 1989/90 season.
Manchester City lead the table on 83 points and host West Ham at home, while Liverpool, two points behind, host Newcastle United; and both teams are expected to win. This means that City needs at least a draw and Liverpool failing to win by at least 8 goals to eat into City’s goals difference of seven.
Although a grand finale witnessed two seasons ago during which The Manchunians won the title ahead of bitter rivals Manchester United with the last kick of the season at QPR may not be delivered on Sunday afternoon, millions across the globe will watch on to see if there would be a final twist at the last hurdle in the title race.
Barring a bizarre twist, Manuel Pellegrini — an engineer by profession — will lead his men to their second title in three seasons in his first season as manager. But are the men from the blue side of Manchester worth this latest triumph?
They have matched the Reds in attacking verve, wins, tactical battles, determination; and they also score goals for fun. What has made the team tick to ward off the goals of Liverpool and Chelsea’s grit? Here I try to examine the extra qualities that the new champions-in-making have exhibited this season.
When manager Manuel Pellegrini was anointed in July, he promised the fans something different — something “attractive.”
“One of the reasons I am here is for the way we play,” the 60-year old said at his first press conference.
“Manchester City supporters will see a different way of playing than they have seen in other years. We will try to be an attractive team.”
Intriguingly, he has been true to his words, as Manchester City have delivered wins in different forms. Be it a 7-0 walloping of Norwich City, 6-0 pummeling of Tottenham, the 6-3 battering of Arsenal or the 1-0 grinding win over Crystal Palace, ‘Citeh’ — as they are fondly called by fans — have offered both scintillating and the ugly wins.
Not only have they won games, they have several attacking outlets to defeat their opponents. Overlapping full backs, bullet headers from Edin Dzeko, fox-in-the-box Sergio Aguero, long-range shots and dead ball perfection from Yaya Toure (he equaled Frank Lampard’s record of 20 or more goals for a midfielder in a season) have seen City ahead of their peers, scoring 100 goals already in the season.
Strength in depth
Manchester City’s squad is littered with quality in both defence and attack, with at least two world-class players in each position. The Mancunians can field two quality teams without breaking a sweat.
Despite injury to key players at different times, the team has adapted. Martin Demichelis has deputised for the injured Nemanja Nastasic, Javi Garcia has adapted in the face of injury to either Fernandinho or Yaya Toure, while Alvaro Negredo, Stefan Jovetic and Edin Dzeko have unlocked defences in the absence of the mercurial Sergio Aguero. This has culminated in the best offensive record (100 goals) and second-best defensive record (37 conceded).
Last season, erstwhile manager, Roberto Mancini, tried to defeat Manchester United legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, at mind games and he fell short, clearing the way for the wily-old Scotsman to claim an unprecedented 20th EPL crown.
The shrewd appointment of Manuel Pellegrini brought calm to the Etihad stadium, but this was tested by the second coming of Jose Mourinho to Chelsea. The former FC Porto coach is notorious for his many outbursts and cunning statements, calling Wenger a “failure” and notoriously chiding Pellegrini as “an engineer by academic formation.”
Mourinho claimed Chelsea would not win the league although they topped it at various points, while his final card was to threaten to field a weakened starting line-up against Liverpool. These different mind games got the better of Liverpool manager and players, especially captain Steven Gerrard who gifted Chelsea a goal in their 2-0 home loss last month.
City were, however, unmoved by Mourinho’s different mind games, with Pellegrini preaching focus and patience without looking sideways. Even when the press crucified the team after their 3-2 loss at Liverpool, the players stuck with their manager’s words and took full advantage when Liverpool slipped.
If eventually Manchester City win the league on Sunday as they are expected to, they would be winning by being top of the league for just 15 days — another record. Also, in the 21-season history of the EPL, the leader going to the last fixture of the season has always won it, and this should be good news to the mega-rich Manchester club. Congratulations in advance Manchester; the Sky, really, is Blue!