Chelsea blew the Premier League title race open on Sunday, but a 2-0 victory at the home of the then presumed title favorites Liverpool really should not have been any surprise. It has been a title race unlike any other, with all three teams currently in contention at one point being favorites before a dramatic momentum shift. While Manchester City now have the edge heading into the final couple of weeks of the season, it would be foolhardy to think that anything is yet decided.
City have been in this position before, when their incredible goal-scoring feats between November and January made them appear on an inexorable march toward a second championship in three years. But Chelsea emphatically ended City’s run and assumed their favorites’ tag with a 1-0 victory at the Etihad in early February.
A run of three defeats in six matches against teams from the lower reaches of the Premier League halted Chelsea’s progress, however. Meanwhile, a run of 11 straight victories, including what appeared a definitive win over Manchester City propelled Liverpool in the unlikely position of frontrunners. Yet, as City have recovered from their stumble, Liverpool’s loss means that Manuel Pellegrini’s side lie three points back with a game in hand and have an eight goal advantage in the crucial goal difference column.
It would be fitting in this most enthralling of title races, if such a fine margin was to decide the champions. Several possible outcomes remain in play, however, including Chelsea -- just two points back -- from sealing a title in Jose Mourinho’s first season back in charge.
Mourinho clearly prioritized the Champions League heading into Anfield at the weekend and still scoffed at the suggestion that Chelsea were back in the title race after their victory. Yet, with remaining fixtures at home to Norwich City and away to Cardiff City, maximum points look an extremely likely outcome for the club who last lifted the Premier League trophy in 2010. Norwich may be fighting for their lives, but a run of five straight defeats is indicative of their struggles. Cardiff’s record has been even more desperate this season and there is a chance that they could even be already condemned to relegation come the final day.
Liverpool’s task to get maximum points does not appear so straightforward. The match that poses the biggest threat on paper is next Monday’s visit to Crystal Palace. Under Tony Pulis, Palace have gone on a remarkable resurgence in the second half of the season, with a run of five-straight victories ensuring their survival. Brendan Rodgers will be hoping that the fact that Palace have already secured safety will lead to them now taking their foot off the gas. There was perhaps some evidence of that on Sunday, with Manchester City having little problem disposing of them.
Liverpool’s final match promises to be a much simpler affair when they host a Newcastle United side who appear to have downed tools ever since January. They may still be ensconced in mid-table, but Newcastle have lost six games in a row. Such is the lack of motivation shown by the players in recent weeks, that it is not inconceivable that Liverpool could at the very least eat into a massive chunk of City’s goal-difference advantage on the final day. Newcastle have conceded 17 goals in their last six matches and Liverpool, the league’s top scorers, have the attacking threat to increase that considerably.
Whether that will be enough, with City having three games to build up their goal difference further, remains to be seen. But City’s extra game also gives them an extra potential banana skin on which to slip up. That is most likely to occur on Saturday when they visit fifth-placed Everton. Roberto Martinez’s side have lost two of their last three matches, but need to win to retain any chance of overhauling Arsenal for the final Champions League place. If nothing else, after such a fine season, Martinez will not want the campaign to end with a damp squib.
City’s remaining two fixtures should be more of a formality, as they host West Ham and Aston Villa sides who have endured difficult campaigns. Villa, in their penultimate fixture, may provide more of a test given that they beat City earlier in the season and have been at their best against the leading sides.
It remains too close to call at this stage, but given what has happened thus far it would be something of a surprise if there were not at least one final twist to this memorable title race.
At Everton (May 3)
Vs. Aston Villa (May 7)
Vs. West Ham (May 11)
At Crystal Palace (May 5)
Vs. Newcastle United (May 11)
Vs. Norwich City (May 4)
At Cardiff City (May 11)