Down to the last wire

by Cressida Smart

Image

© Quick fix sports

This Sunday, Manchester City visit Newcastle United and then host QPR, and if they can win both of those matches they will win the Barclays Premier League and become the champions of England for the first time since 1968. Manchester United, meanwhile, host Swansea City and then travel to Sunderland on the last day of the season. They can repeat as champions if they win out their games and if City drops points.

Monday night was a disaster for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men. City now sit in first place ahead of United with two games left in the campaign, thanks to their 1-0 win on Monday. With the
victory, City pulled level on 83 points (they have identical 26-5-5 records) with United at the
top of the table. However, with City’s vastly superior goal difference over the red half of
Manchester, it means that in order for United to win the League this year, they will almost
certainly have to do it by finishing with more points than their bitter rival.

After leading the table for much of the season, it started to look like Manchester City would fade away. Their form towards the end of the season was not helped by the antics of wayward Mario Balotelli, but fortunately, they were able to bring Carlos Tevez in from the cold who duly obliged with a number of goals. The title may have been secured by this stage had Tevez not refused to warm up earlier in the season. After spending millions on numerous players, Roberto Mancini,

City’s manager, may not get another chance if they do not win the title this season.

In contrast, 2012 has been a season of transition for The Red Devils. Sir Alex Ferguson has placed his trust in several young players and at times they have fallen short. This was highlighted by the early exit from European competition. Many pundits thought bringing Paul Scholes back was a mistake but he has provided much needed experience and flair.

So what are United’s last two fixtures? The next clash they face is at Old Trafford against high-flying Swansea. When the fixtures list came out, many may have thought that this could be a title-deciding period, and expected that United beating Swansea would lead towards their relegation. However, the Swans have proven their worth in the League, though, and as such this match now has more of a tricky mid-table side feeling about it rather than a relegation decider.

Still, even given current form you would expect that United should take all three points in this game, albeit narrowly.

On the last day of the regular season The Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face
Sunderland which is going to be a very difficult game. Sunderland have little for which to play – already doomed to mid-table mediocrity – but that won’t stop them trying to put one over on United. With the way things have gone over the past few weeks, you would probably expect a draw to be the most likely result for this fixture – an outcome that wouldn’t help United in the slightest. However, there is always hope, and assuming United do manage to battle it out for the win, that would mean City need victories in both of their last matches to secure the title.

Manchester City’s first match comes on the same day as the clash with Swansea, when they have to travel to Newcastle. If this match had come before last weekend, one may have genuinely believed Newcastle could pull off an upset – perhaps even win the match. However, after somehow losing 4-0 to Wigan, a result that ended a six-match winning streak, there will be a different mentality about the Newcastle players coming into the match. Remember, of course, that the Magpies could still very realistically qualify for the Champions League this season, so this game is probably the most important of their season so far. Can United Win The League?

• Yes

72.2%

• No

27.8%

Total votes: 370

It is very feasible that City could drop points in this game.

City’s last fixture is at home to QPR who are in the battle at the bottom of the table. Even with the magic of football and the unpredictable nature of the Barclays Premier League, you would almost bet your house on City picking up all three points in this one. The thought of the side that has ripped apart defences all season losing (at home) to a team that has been sloppy at the best of times defensively doesn’t seem very plausible.

So with all that in mind, can United win back-to-back league titles? Unlikely, but possible. They will have to give it their all to bring home the six points that are left on offer, whilst also relying on Newcastle (or less likely QPR) to do them a massive favour. It certainly can be done, but the worst thing about it is the fact that everything is out of United’s hands now.

One thing is for sure, it is City’s to lose more so than it is United’s to win.

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