Just when everyone began assuming that games such as Liverpool v Chelsea and Everton v Manchester City would decide the title race, Sunderland and Crystal Palace remind us exactly why the world loves the Premier League.
Gus Poyet has already admitted his side are effectively doomed, while Palace were doing so well in recent weeks that a loss at Everton probably wouldn’t have affected their impending survival.
But English clubs just don’t phone it in because there’s nothing to play for. And the fans don’t stop attending unless there’s something riding on it or a win is all but guaranteed.
And that’s why, cliché as the line has become over the years, the Premier League is the best division in the world.
The only other top flight I can think of where you see this much professional pride on the pitch, whether there are ends to the means or not, is the Bundesliga.
Especially when you consider how Bayern Munich are able to dominate – and if a Borussia Dortmund overthrows them, Bayern simply buy their best players – it’s brilliant that there’s so much pure match quality further down the table and that the likes of Augsberg can make the Bavarians pay for their complacency with passion and spirit.
Nonetheless, the Premier League for me exemplifies this the most.
This won’t come as reassuring news to Man City, of course. The title race is far from over, but that performance and draw against Sunderland seems to have really got them down and it’s easy to see why.
They’ve pretty much admitted that the defeat at Liverpool, so late on and thanks to uncharacteristic errors from skipper Vincent Kompany, was still sore heading into the Etihad to take on the bottom club. But I think it runs a little deeper than that.
For me, they’ve looked jaded for a little while now. In their last 10 games – a very commonly-accepted benchmark to judge a team’s form – they’ve won just half.
Perhaps crashing out of Europe took more out of Manuel Pellegrini and his men than it appeared at first. While there’s a few personnel changes from two years ago, it’s still hard to fathom the side who took the league title fight to the very last second in 2011-12 finishing so limply this time around.
And they should thank their lucky stars that Everton were also surprised by the in-form Palace. Otherwise, we may have even had a revived battle for third spot on our hands.
Many viewed the fact that Liverpool and Chelsea meet next weekend in a mouth-watering and crucial fixture as City’s ‘ace in the hole’ – the moment where they could possibly prey on one or both title rivals and move from the slipstream to first place having cashed in their games in hand.
Now, even a draw between the Reds and the Blues isn’t guaranteed to throw the onus back over to the Citizens. Especially as I would not be surprised if Sunderland wasn’t their only banana peel this season.
They’re away to Crystal Palace next weekend when the other two titans collide. Is anyone banking on three City points at Selhurst now, after last night?
West Brom, Aston Villa and West Ham at home should – and I stress ‘should’ – be more straightforward, but then there’s Goodison Park on May 3rd. If Everton win that, perhaps third place really is open season, after all.
But while ruling teams out in a league like this is a surefire way to risk looking very stupid, I am really struggling to envision City seeing the race for the title through to the last day.
If they are to keep up with Liverpool and Chelsea, they’ll need to step it up massively from Wednesday evening – and hope for a bit of luck.
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