Before Wednesday’s victory over Aston Villa, Manchester City had led the Premier League table for just 11 days. But Manuel Pellegrini’s side have hit the front at just the right time and go into the final day of the season knowing that they only need avoid defeat against West Ham in order to be the only leaders that matter and claim their second championship in three years.
In doing so, Pellegrini will want to avoid the same level of tension that engulfed the Etihad for much of Wednesday’s clash with Villa. For more than an hour, City were frustrated by a diligent Villa side happy to pack their defense. A point would still have left the destination of the title in their hands heading into the final day, but would have allowed no margin for error. Instead Edin Dzeko came up big with two goals before Stevan Jovetic and then, in spectacular fashion, Yaya Toure made the result an emphatic one and turned the mood firmly toward jubilation. At a venue where City have lost just once this season and failed to win only twice, a West Ham side with nothing to play for should pose little danger.
But, then again, this is Manchester City. The nervous atmosphere in midweek can at least in part be ascribed to the club’s history of bumbling disappointments and never making things as easy as they could be. There was the time when they were relegated from the Premier League in 1996 when they were playing for time in the corner in the erroneous belief that a draw would keep them up. Only 15 years ago, City were in England’s third tier and would have remained there had they not scored twice in the dying minutes before going onto win on penalties. And even when winning the title two seasons ago, it again took two late goals and Sergio Aguero’s never to be forgotten winner.
In an extra boost for City, Aguero has returned to fitness in time to try and ensure that there is no need for such drama this time around. Indeed, City go into the final day with a full squad available thanks to defender Matija Nastasic being fit for the first time since February.
“Everyone is available for Sunday,” Pellegrini said, according to Manchester City’s official website. “For me, that is the most important thing ahead of this game. We need all our important players for this game and we are happy that we have.
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“We know the importance of this match but we must play a normal game and plan to win as we always do. It is important to be calm ahead of this game. We have experienced players and some of them played in the game when we last won the Premier League, but the situation is different, many of the team are different and we are playing different opposition.
“I expect to win the match and I’m not thinking about a draw or anything else.”
It remains to be seen just how much motivation their opponents have going into the final day after a difficult season for the London side. For a long time there was genuine fear of relegation, while many of the club’s fans have remained steadfastly unimpressed by manager Sam Allardyce and his brand of football, even though the club have ultimately achieved safety with something to spare. Still, Allardyce would love nothing more than be hailed as the man who decided the destination of the title. And the he has left no doubt as to where he wants the trophy to wind up.
“Every player on top of his form, every player can go out and give everything they've got on the basis that they know we're in the Premier League next year, but let's try and spoil Manchester City's party,” he said, according to West Ham’s official website.
“From a neutral point of view, everybody would like to see Liverpool win it,” he added. “From a personal point of view I'd like to see Steven Gerrard win it. It's the last thing for him which he hasn't quite achieved at Liverpool.”
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick off at 10 a.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by NBC, with a live stream available on NBC Sports Live Extra.