No good reason to bet against City claiming title
A fifth name is set to be inscribed on the English Premier League trophy tomorrow night when Manchester City will almost certainly join neighbours United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Blackburn as the only clubs to have taken the title in the 20 years since the league was formed.
City's title odds have shrunk to 1.07, which indicates a 93 per cent chance that they will finish top of the table after the home game against QPR. When they were eight points behind United with six games to go, City's chance was hanging by a thread but victory tomorrow will complete a perfect six-match run-in.
There is no good reason to bet against City, who boast the best home record in the league (17 wins and one draw) and are up against the worst away team (QPR have won three, drawn two and lost 13 on the road). QPR's only decent piece of away form is their 1-0 win at Everton, but that was last August and Everton were struggling at the time.
QPR have lost their other eight away games against teams in the top half of the table, by an aggregate of 21 goals to two, and have failed to score in six. A City win to nil looks a strong possibility - 2-0 and 3-0 have been regular scorelines for them.
United, meanwhile, face the prospect of a first season without a trophy in seven years even if they win at Sunderland. And they (or City) should set a new points record for Premier League runners-up - they are already on 86 points, which is the current record by a second-place finisher in a 38-match season (Liverpool in 2008-09).
If they finish second with 89 points, that would have been enough for the title in 11 of the previous 16 seasons since the Premier League was reduced to 38 matches.
Whatever their ultimate fate, United rarely ease up on the final day of the season, as we saw last season when they were already champions but entertained their fans with a 4-2 home win over Blackpool, who were scrapping to avoid relegation. That was United's 14th win on the final day in 19 Premier League seasons.
Sunderland, on the other hand, have appeared to take it easy in recent weeks. With nothing to play for, they have behaved (badly) like many mid-table teams towards the end of a hard season. Since their exit from the FA Cup quarter-finals in late March, Martin O'Neill's team have not won in seven Premier League games and have failed to score in four of them.
Before that run, Sunderland's win rate for O'Neill was above 50 per cent and they had lost only five out of 16 in the Premier League, which emphasises what a drab end to the season it has been for them.
United should win on form, but even so their odds are far too short and it's difficult to know how they might react if City establish a clear-cut lead over QPR.
The difficult, if not impossible, task for QPR at City has left the trapdoor slightly ajar for Bolton, who must win at Stoke and hope QPR lose in order to stay up. Wigan won 1-0 at Stoke last season in similar circumstances and victory is far from beyond Bolton, who rank eighth on away form against bottom-half sides with five wins out of eight.
Stoke's Britannia stadium is never an easy place to visit and, while this has not been the best season at home for Tony Pulis' side, they were compromised by the hectic Europa League schedule. Since their exit from that competition, Stoke have won three and drawn three out of six at home.
The draws were against Manchester City, Arsenal and Everton and the wins were all against lesser teams, which suggests Stoke will be difficult to beat at least. They have lost only four at home all season and rate the bet on the handicap.
The other battleground tomorrow is the race for the Champions League places, which has now been reduced to Arsenal, Tottenham and Newcastle. Only Tottenham are at home, against Fulham, and they should continue their mini-revival (seven points from their last three games) with a win.
That puts the pressure on Arsenal to win at West Brom, which might not be so easy. Roy Hodgson's team were held back by their home form for much of the season, but they have won four of their last six at the Hawthorns and the only defeat was against a Papiss Cisse-inspired Newcastle.
If there is to be an upset at big odds, West Brom could supply it. Arsenal surged into third with a seven-match winning run but they have stuttered again in recent weeks and are winless in four games (three of which were against teams below West Brom in the table).
Newcastle have an even tougher task at Everton and their chance of a top-four finish appears to have gone. Everton have finished the season strongly (they are the only team undefeated in the past eight games, with four wins and four draws) and are decent odds for the win.
The best team over the past eight games has been Wigan, who rate a banker for another win at home to Wolves.
The visitors have taken only four points from their last 13 games, losing nine, and Wigan have excelled against much tougher opposition in recent weeks.
The number of home wins out of 28 for Manchester City since their last defeat
Everton, Stoke, West Brom, Wigan, Espanyol, Atletico Madrid.
TOP 5 BETS
1 Everton home win
Decent odds to finish on a high
2 Stoke on handicap
Tough opponents for desperate Bolton
3 West Brom home win
Worth chancing after good recent results
4 Wigan home win
Should justify banker status
5 Atletico Madrid on handicap
Europa League winners can finish in style