Premier League ready for drama-filled final day
LONDON - Reuters
Manchester City’s Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure (L) scored two goals in his team’s crucial 2-0 win over Newcastle United in the English Premier League. The Ivory Coast midfielder is having the best season of his career and have been instrumental in Manchester City’s successful run this season. AFP photoA thrilling and unpredictable Premier League season reaches its climax on May 13 when either Manchester United or Manchester City will be crowned champions after the closest title race for over 20 years.
At the same time, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur or Newcastle United will seal a Champions League place and Queens Park Rangers or Bolton Wanderers will join relegated Blackburn Rovers and Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Championship next season. None of those seven clubs can afford a slip-up on an afternoon that will bring down the curtain on a season which has taken one unlikely twist after another.
With just 90 minutes plus stoppage time left to play Manchester City know that if it beats Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad, it will be champions for the first time since 1968 unless United defeats Sunderland by at least nine goals more than City wins by.
Both teams have 86 points while City has an eight-goal better goal difference than its neighbors. City has scored 90 goals, United 88 and even in this goal-crazy season such a huge winning margin is highly unlikely.
However, if City should draw or lose to QPR, United would retain its title and be crowned champion for the 20th time with a win at Sunderland.
An added twist is that QPR’s manager is Mark Hughes, who a former United player who was sacked as City manager in 2009 to make way for Roberto Mancini.
For weeks Mancini has said United remained favorite to take the title, but he changed tack slightly after City’s 2-0 win at Newcastle last weekend. “It is not finished. It is important that we get three points and we need a big effort - there is one game more,” he said. “QPR will be tough, they are fighting to avoid relegation. Nothing changes. It is ours to lose. It doesn’t depend on other teams anymore.”
United manager Alex Ferguson said City would find it tough against Rangers.
“The whole future of the club could be resting on the game and I only wish Sparky (Hughes) was playing,” he said after United beat Swansea City last weekend. “Mark knows his job all right. He was sacked by City in a very unethical way and he’ll remember that. Mark Hughes’ teams always fight but QPR players are fighting for survival.”
Hughes said: “It would be a fantastic story if we were able to go there and get something, they are going for titles and we are trying to stay in this league.”
Hughes hopes of keeping QPR up were boosted by Djibril Cisse’s 89th-minute winner against Stoke City last weekend.
First place in the title race has fluctuated between the Manchester clubs all season with United top until the beginning of October, before City went ahead until the start of March. United then opened up an eight-point lead by Easter time.
That evaporated after an erratic run and City went back to the summit on April 30 when it beat United 1-0 at the Etihad.
The race for third place and the automatic spot in next season’s Champions League is just as close as the battle for the title but involves three teams.
Arsenal is favorite to take it as it is currently third with 67 points, followed by Spurs on 66 and Newcastle on 65.
Arsenal is at West Bromwich Albion, playing its last game under new England manager Roy Hodgson, Spurs faces a Fulham side at White Hart Lane coached by its still-popular former manager Martin Jol and Newcastle travels to in-form Everton.
All three will want to avoid finishing fourth, which normally carries with it a guaranteed place in the Champions League qualifiers but not this season.
Chelsea, who will finish sixth, its lowest position since 2002, will take the fourth spot Champions League spot if the Blues beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League final on May 19, making third place an even greater prize for the chasing trio.