It’s up for grabs now: Manchester City aim to cement Premier League dominance on final day
Manchester City are playing for more than just their Premier League title on Sunday; also at stake is their claim to be the dominant team of the last five years, rather than part of a duopoly with rivals Liverpool.
“It’s up for grabs now,” declared the late commentator Brian Moore as Michael Thomas bore down on goal on a fateful evening at Anfield in May 1989.
The same sentiment applies now, as English football’s top division braces for another decisive final day that will determine the destination of the Premier League trophy.
For leaders Manchester City, it represents the home straight in a marathon title race with Liverpool, who they lead by just one point after 37 games.
Victory over Aston Villa at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday afternoon is guaranteed to bring them a fourth Premier League crown in five seasons.
Those numbers represent the sort of dominance that City’s Abu Dhabi-based owners had in mind when they went all-out to lure Pep Guardiola as manager, and suggest an era of mostly peerless supremacy.
They belie just how close Guardiola’s team have been pushed by Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in recent campaigns, however.
Since the start of 2018-19, City have accumulated just one more point than their main rivals – the proverbial cigarette paper that currently separates them.
Should City slip up now and Liverpool beat them to the line, it will put a very different complexion on debates about the success of Guardiola’s tenure.
It would also tee up Liverpool to complete an unprecedented quadruple, having already won the EFL Cup and FA Cup and reached the Champions League final later this month.
A historic four-trophy haul from their closest rivals would make it a little harder to argue that Guardiola’s City have been the pre-eminent English club of the last five years.
Subplots and conspiracy theories in City Premier League bid
If the title being decided in the final 90 minutes of the campaign is not enough, there is no shortage of sub-plots and conspiracy theories to lend it extra spice.
Villa manager Steven Gerrard would love nothing better than to trip up City, clearing a path for his beloved Liverpool to pip them to the post – or so the thinking goes.
Gerrard also has players with Anfield connections, such as Philippe Coutinho and Danny Ings. Will any of this make them tougher opponents? It’s debatable, at best.
City’s biggest enemies might be themselves. Having seemingly put their Champions League trauma behind them, they looked nervy again last week at West Ham.
Guardiola’s men, so used to steamrolling teams, have been conspicuously fragile when they concede first, winning on just one of seven instances in the league this term.
Last weekend marked the first time they had recovered from two goals down to draw in a decade. It’s 17 years since they won from that position.
More reassuring for City is the fact that final-day title collapses have been extremely rare.
Eight title races have gone to the last round since the Premier League’s advent in 1992; on every occasion the club that started the day top of the table lifted the trophy.
In fact the last English top-flight season to buck that trend came when Moore uttered his immortal words and Thomas wrote his name into Arsenal folklore.
That is not to say there hasn’t been final-day drama in the intervening 33 years, most of all when City and Sergio Aguero prompted their own famous line of commentary in 2012.
City also had to come from behind at Brighton to win the Premier League in 2019, as did Manchester United against Tottenham in 1999.
Blackburn almost blew it in 1995 by losing at Liverpool in their last game, only for United to let them off the hook with a draw against West Ham.
Whoever hoists the silverware on Sunday, one final afternoon of drama is a fitting end to a title race between two teams of the highest standard. That it is still up for grabs is enough.