The slow, painful capitulation of the title came to an end yesterday. What has been inevitable for months finally became reality as all vestiges of hope were extinguished by Manchester United’s victory over Aston Villa. The win, along with Manchester City’s defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, made it mathematically impossible for the Sky Blues to mount what had become an increasingly improbable comeback.
City can now at least focus fully on winning the FA Cup and finishing the season with some confidence-boosting wins over inferior opposition. The fixture list looks easy on paper and they should be able to win all their remaining matches, but there are always a few freak results thrown up during the close of a season.
They are only five points clear of Arsenal (with a game in hand) and six points ahead of Chelsea, so there is still some pressure on them to pick up points in their final five league games, but the only fixture that really matters is the FA Cup final against Wigan.
Here are my predictions for the final six matches.
In the first game back since being dethroned as champions, City will face a brutal physical battle that will test the attitude Roberto Mancini has questioned in some of his players.
Human battering ram Andy Carroll will target Matija Nastasic in defence, while Kevin Nolan, Mohamed Diame and Ricardo Vaz Te promise to make it a bruising encounter in the middle of the park.
But West Ham have only won three away games this season and have only scored 10 goals on their travels. City rarely shirk from a physical battle and should record a comfortable victory.
The reverse fixture earlier in the season was the longest game in Premier League history. The referee added 12 minutes at the end to cover the length of time Micah Richards received treatment on the pitch for a knee injury. He has only now recovered from the cartilage tear and could feature in this fixture.
City could not take control of that game and were second best throughout. Swansea will look to boss possession again and will want to test themselves against top-class opposition.
Gareth Barry will need help in the middle of the park to cope with Swansea’s high-pressing game.
City will rest key players for this game in preparation for the FA Cup final but should still win comfortably. The players selected will not only see this match as an audition for a place in the final but also as a showcase for any prospective clubs looking to buy them.
WBA’s form has been very poor of late, but they are safe from relegation thanks to an excellent first half of the season. There is a lack of urgency to their play that is typical of mid-table teams at this time of the season and City should beat them easily.
This is the game the entire season will now be judged by—win and City can claim the season to be a success; lose and Mancini’s reputation will be in tatters.
The dress rehearsal last week was an even game that Mancini admitted City were fortunate to win. Wigan had a number of clear-cut chances they failed to take, and it took a moment of brilliance from Carlos Tevez to secure victory. James McCarthy, Shaun Maloney and Jordi Gomez were excellent in that game, but the strikers let the team down.
Don’t expect the game to be as tight in the final—City will be too strong for Roberto Martinez’s men. One of their biggest weaknesses this season has been complacency, but Mancini has plenty of time to focus his team and prepare them for this one game, while Wigan are in a relegation dogfight they seem destined to lose.
Reading will already be relegated by this point and will have nothing to play for, while City will send out a second-string team after the FA Cup final exertions.
It will be Reading’s last home game of the season, and they will want to give their fans something positive to remember over the summer after a crushingly disappointing season.
City’s attendance figures have been dwindling over the last few weeks as fans have come to accept the season is over, but this game has been sold out for months. People anticipating another Aguerooooo-type finale quickly snapped up these tickets, but this match has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib.
It is possible that City will need a result to guarantee second place or that Norwich will still be fighting relegation, but in all likelihood neither side will have anything to play for.
Norwich could be the victims of a backlash as City get out all the frustrations that have built up over the season in front of their home crowd.