Forecasting Manchester City's Remaining Schedule, Premier League Finish
On an emotional afternoon in which tribute was paid to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster—the actual 25th anniversary was on Tuesday—the hosts shrugged off City's comeback en route to a 3-2 victory.
After Sunday's fixtures, Liverpool lead the league on 77 points through 34 matches played, while Chelsea sit second, two points back. City, on the other hand, now lie a full seven points behind Liverpool with 70 points but have only played 32 matches due to various postponements.
Essentially, the fate of the league has been taken out of their hands. Even winning every game left on their docket won't net them the title without a slip from Liverpool. That does beg the question, however: Can City actually win out?
Their adjusted schedule now sees them playing six league matches in four weeks, less than ideal for a team dealing with as many injuries as City are. Compounding this is Yaya Toure's discouraging early exit from Sunday's match, which led manager Manuel Pellegrini to tell Sky Sports that it could end the Ivorian's season.
That is certainly a cruel blow for the title-chasing Citizens, but can they shake it off and win anyway? Read on for a preview of City's remaining Premier League fixtures.
Sunderland (Home, 16 April)
First up on City's docket is the visit of last-placed Sunderland to the Etihad Stadium.
Last time the two sides met, Sunderland scored through Fabio Borini inside 10 minutes, but City scored three in the second half to lift the Capital One Cup at Wembley.
They were due to meet before that, but their match scheduled for February 12 was postponed because, per a club statement, "exceptional and escalating weather conditions" led to major safety concerns.
City also beat the Black Cats in the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy in July but lost the reverse league fixture at the Stadium of Light by a 1-0 scoreline in November. Phil Bardsley condemned City to yet another lacklustre away result in the first half of the season, but it was City's last defeat in all competitions in 2013.
That was a very different time, of course. Sunderland had just brought in Gus Poyet a couple of weeks prior, and that win was his second in three matches at the helm, though they still sat 19th at the time. City, on the other hand, were in eighth, their horrific away form crippling them.
City did play a far weaker lineup that day, with the likes of Joe Hart, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas consigned to bench spots and David Silva unavailable through injury. They lack Toure this time around, but most other regulars are fit.
Expect this to be a reasonably easy evening for the Blues to nab three huge points.
West Brom (Home, 21 April)
After the midweek fixture, City at least get the weekend off, waiting until Monday to kick off against West Brom.
The Baggies were overrun at the Hawthorns, needing two goals in the last five minutes plus stoppage time to salvage the 3-2 defeat handed to them by the visitors.
Steve Clarke was fired as West Brom manager not two weeks later, replaced temporarily by Keith Downing before former Real Betis boss Pepe Mel was brought in to turn a season that was quickly tanking into something respectable.
So far, that hasn't worked out so well. Just two wins since Mel's hiring have them rooted in 16th place on 33 points, three clear of Fulham at the top of the drop zone. They might be a bit safer right now, were it not for blowing a three-goal lead at home to Spurs on Saturday.
At the very least, they'll be well-rested heading into this mismatch on paper at the Etihad. But they're not in the best of form, and their top scorers in the league—Morgan Amalfitano, Saido Berahino and Stephane Sessegnon—have a whopping four goals each.
The only thing that could stop City from nailing all three points here is a fit of ill-discipline on shorter-than-normal rest.
Crystal Palace (Away, 27 April)
City's first of two away fixtures during their final stretch sees them take a trip down to London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
A solitary Edin Dzeko strike at the Etihad sent the Citizens to the summit of the Premier League table at the end of 2013.
Palace, meanwhile, had just snuck out of the relegation scrap the previous matchweek and dropped back in after their first match in 2014. But a remarkable turnaround under Tony Pulis has seen them win six matches since the calendar turned, with a 1-0 shocker over Chelsea headlining three straight entering their midweek fixture with Everton. They currently sit 12th on 37 points.
Five of those six wins for the Eagles in 2014 have come at Selhurst Park, which has showcased some of the best home support in any English ground this season. Look no further than the Chelsea match—this relatively small team from South London welcomed the then-league leaders to their humble abode and sent them packing without a point.
Can they repeat the feat against yet another title-chasing, blue-wearing side? This side in particular has showcased the notion that anything can happen in the Premier League, and while they lack any elite talent—Jason Puncheon leads the team with six league goals—they've got the mindset to do it.
Given City's less-than-stellar away form and an extra night's rest for the hosts, another shock could be on the cards. However, expect City to battle away and come away with at least one point.
Everton (Away, 3 May)
It's hard to say that Everton have been a massive surprise this season, given their sixth-place finish last season and the arrival of Romelu Lukaku on loan promising goals.
The Toffees lost just twice on the 2013 side of this season's league fixture list, with the first of those losses being a 3-1 defeat at the Etihad in October. Lukaku put the visitors up early on, but City, bouncing back from a home horror show against Bayern Munich in that midweek, responded straight away through Alvaro Negredo and eventually nabbed the points.
However, it looks like it might be a different story at Goodison Park. Roberto Martinez's charges have failed to win just four of 16 home matches so far this season, with their solitary loss a 1-0 defeat to Sunderland which came as the second of three games in eight days near the winter holidays.
They head into their midweek home fixture against Crystal Palace, a match that was postponed from the same day as City-Sunderland, on a seven-game winning streak that includes a quite remarkable 3-0 win over Arsenal. Will City avoid a similar fate?
It seems doubtful that this City side would succumb to such a scoreline, as good as this Everton side may be. At the very least, City can count themselves lucky that the revitalised Gareth Barry is ineligible for the match due to his loan deal to the Merseyside club.
This does, however, look like the one fixture where not having Yaya Toure will hurt City most. In a hard-fought battle, City will not see enough of the ball, with the hosts bossing the ball en route to three points.
Aston Villa (Home, 7 May)
As noted in a statement from Aston Villa, this match was postponed from its original March 8 kick-off due to City's FA Cup obligations that weekend.
City, of course, lost that match to Wigan, who lost over the weekend to Arsenal on penalties in the cup semi-final.
Villa have hovered in the middle of the table, not quite living up to the top-half expectations this writer placed on them in July. Their current 14th place in the Premier League table is far from secure, with just four points separating them and Fulham in 18th.
Oh, and star striker Christian Benteke is done for the season after rupturing his Achilles tendon. The Villans have currently lost four on the bounce, including a 4-1 trouncing at Old Trafford. But for their trip back to Manchester, they can at least look back on their 3-2 home victory over City in September.
Another match indicative of City's shoddy away form in the early going, the visitors held two single-goal leads. But a Leandro Bacuna free-kick was followed shortly by Andi Weimann's winner, netting Villa a massive upset.
That was September. As mentioned before, Villa have dropped four straight in the league and have to go on the road for this one. It seems like an entirely different season now from when the Villans waltzed into the Emirates Stadium and beat Arsenal 3-1.
It seems almost improbable to think City will come away with anything less than three points here without, as with West Brom or Sunderland, a mental collapse. Even an overly optimistic Villa fan—Sam Tighe, are you out there?—would likely be stunned if the visitors nab a point.
West Ham (Home, 11 May)
As they did two years ago, City end the 2013-14 season at home against a London-based club.
But it's not Queens Park Rangers this time around but rather Sam Allardyce's West Ham. Whether this match will live up to May 13, 2012 is yet to be seen.
The reverse fixture in this battle saw Alvaro Negredo write "How to Dummy for Dummies" in the build-up to an Aguero goal en route to a 3-1 win at Upton Park. The Hammers now play the role of visitor; they're currently sitting in 11th place, level with Crystal Palace on 37 points but ahead on goal difference and seven points to the safe side of the drop.
West Ham head into a Tuesday clash with Arsenal in mixed form, with home losses to Manchester United and Liverpool sandwiching a pair of wins over sides currently below them in the table. They swept their four February matches after slumping to a 9-0 scoreline over two legs in League Cup play at the hands of, yep, Manchester City.
Given that it's the last game of the season, both teams will be extra motivated to end the season on a high note. City, of course, might have silverware on the line, while Allardyce's charges will be looking to lock down a solid place in the table, free from the relegation scrap.
In the end, expect the hosts' exceptional talent to win out to take the three points.
What It All Means
Based on what's just been discussed, where does that leave Manchester City? A tally of the points we've given them yields four wins, one loss (Everton) and a draw (Palace).
Those 13 points from a possible 18 would leave City with 83 overall, six shy of the title-winning total (89) of the last two seasons but five better than they did last season.
As mentioned in the opener, Liverpool are currently on 77 points and so would need seven points from their four remaining matches to guarantee a finish ahead of City. Their goal difference is only three worse than City's (plus-51 compared to plus-54), so enough goals could see them win out on that stat as City did two years ago.
What may end up being the title decider will be played on April 27 as Chelsea visit Anfield. Jose Mourinho's men currently trail Brendan Rodgers' league leaders by two points, so a road win would see them go top if both teams win their prior matches—Liverpool visit Carrow Road while Chelsea host Sunderland.
Both sides do have relatively light run-ins outside this clash. Liverpool have a date at the ever-tricky Selhurst Park, but they seem more up to the task than Chelsea were and City might be. They end by hosting an out-of-form Newcastle, while Chelsea visit Cardiff and host Norwich.
In the end, the form of the Reds will see them to the title. City have paid the price for their shaky early road form as they dropped points at Villa, Cardiff, Sunderland, Chelsea and Stoke (a scoreless draw).
Even just two or three extra points could have shaken things up, changing everything along the way.
Prediction: Liverpool take title with 89 points. Chelsea's three wins put them on 84, one better than City.
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