ETIHAD STADIUM, MANCHESTER, U.K. — Liverpool’s dramatic collapse from three goals up against Crystal Palace on Monday was in keeping with the unpredictable and bizarre nature of this season’s Premier League title race, one which sees Manchester City’s position as favourites strengthened considerably.
City now need just four points from their remaining two home games against Aston Villa and West Ham to almost certainly be crowned champions.
It was a game that highlighted the deficiencies in the Liverpool side: Their defence lacks the necessary solidity to be champions. It’s remarkable, in fact, that they’ve performed as consistently as they have done, and Brendan Rodgers deserves great credit for overachieving with the players at his disposal.
Rodgers conceded the title after the result, but secretly he will hoping Villa or West Ham can spring a surprise. Stranger things have happened, particularly over the course of this topsy-turvy campaign that has seen a string of remarkable results confound many observers.
Rodgers told reporters afterwards: "There is no doubt Manchester City will go on and win it. We needed to win to keep the pressure on going into the last game and we did not do that."
Nothing is confirmed yet, and City must make sure their desire to see out the season with two wins is strong. Any slip-ups now are likely to be punished and would be filed alongside the long list of “Typical City” moments that have defined much of the club’s last 20 years.
One only has to sift through some of City’s results during that time to see no other club specialises in failure in quite the same way they do.
On the final day of the 1995/96 season, City faced Liverpool at home desperate to stay in the Premier League. Drawing 2-2 in the dying moments, a result which meant City would drop into Division 2, Alan Ball, City’s under-fire manager at the time, was given unreliable information that a point was enough to ensure safety and instructed his players to play for time.
Niall Quinn, who had been substituted and knew three points was required, ran to the corner flag where City were holding the ball to tell them to try and score one more in what had descended into a shambles.
City were relegated.
It was staggeringly incompetent piece of management and a precursor to what was to follow in a difficult season in the second tier.
More recently, a win on the final day of the 2004/05 season would have guaranteed them an unlikely UEFA Cup place, and a last-minute penalty against Middlesborough with the score at 1-1 handed them a golden opportunity. Robbie Fowler, known as one of the most natural finishers England has produced in recent memory, missed it, and City were denied a chance to play in Europe.
Typical City was alive and well.
And even when City do manage to to get over the line, they never seem to do it comfortably. The 1999 Division 2 playoff final and the final day their title-winning 2011/12 season saw success earned in excruciating, heart-stopping circumstances. Most connected to the club are eager for a more serene end to this season.
City have been given a great opportunity to win the title. The recent home draw with Sunderland, a result which saw them temporarily surrender the initiative in the title race, should serve as a reminder that anything can happen in this Premier League. Many feel that with Villa and West Ham now safe, City's chances are increased, but sides playing with freedom are often the most dangerous.
Manuel Pellegrini confirmed earlier to the media that Sergio Aguero won't play against Villa after leaving the field at Goodison with a groin problem, but said that Yaya Toure was withdrawn early to ensure he was ready and rested for the final two games.
It's time for this group of players to prove once and for all that Typical City is a thing of the past.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here: @RobPollard_.
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