It’s been a long, eventful journey, filled with numerous twists and turns but we’ve finally reached the season’s end. All that any football fan can hope for, whether they are partisan or neutral, is that the various races within the League are left undecided until the last ball is kicked. And that is what we are left with this year: 10 remaining fixtures with a hell of a lot to play for…
Form tells us that Manchester City will give QPR a beating on Sunday that will finally return the league title to the blue half of Manchester for the first time since 1968. United travel to the Stadium of Light in Sunderland with faint hopes that a victory and an unlikely result from the Etihad will present them with their 20th title. Popular opinion considers it to be a formality for City but if there’s one thing this season has taught us it is to expect the unexpected.
There are subplots aplenty surrounding the City-QPR fixture mainly surrounding their ex-manager Mark Hughes. We’re fairly sure he’s still smarting from the manner in which he was expelled from the manager’s role at City. Throw in the fact that QPR need a victory as well to guarantee survival and we have the perfect concoction for a thrilling afternoon’s entertainment. City are fairly comfortable with the knowledge that victory by any amount will ensure the title is theirs as it’s highly unlikely United will beat Sunderland by 9+ goals. However, City are well known in football folklore for snatching defeat from the jaws of glory. Their fans will remember vividly the climax to the 1996 season when, thinking they only needed a draw to secure survival, they famously played keep-ball at the corner flag against Liverpool and the score at 2-2. They’d fought back from 0-2 down only to discover at the final whistle that they needed to win. If only Twitter had existed back then.
What’s interesting in this whole scenario is anticipating how United will approach their game against Sunderland. Whilst a victory is expected by most commentators, I’m not convinced. Ever since they contrived to concede four goals against Everton, thus undoing the magnificence of their attacking play that day, United have appeared to lack the drive and conviction associated with their history and style of football. You sensed that they never truly believed they could win at the Etihad on April 30th, their performance inhibited by a number of factors, particularly a curious team selection. Attacking brio had been replaced by timidity and the footballing equivalence of brewer’s droop. At that crucial stage of the season they were as well losing 6-1 again but going gung-ho for a win rather than the meek surrendering that eventually unfolded. Even after an excellent first half against Swansea last weekend, you could sense the belief draining from their players in the second half. A lacklustre draw against the Black Cats would not be a major surprise, at least not to this observer.
However, anyone who can truly say with 100% conviction how this weekend will pan out is an idiot. It’s been a truly bonkers season, which we’ll cover in more detail next week when we do our review of the league, but for now I fully expect there to be a few last shocks and surprises to sned the fans and the media into paroxysms of delight and despair. I wonder if I can get odds on Shaun Wright-Phillips finally scoring a goal; the winner that sends City fans home weeping at another last day balls-up in their history. Stranger things have happened.