City's title to lose but amazing script can still change

In a campaign full of excitement and intrigue, Pellegrini's men are set to fulfil their preseason expectations

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 May, 2014, 10:49pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 May, 2014, 12:14am

Will this unpredictable season end according to script? Manchester City look certain to claim the EPL crown on Sunday, requiring only a draw against West Ham at the Etihad Stadium to deny Liverpool.

As favourites to reclaim the title when the first ball of the 2013-14 season was kicked nine months ago, Manuel Pellegrini's expensive, all-conquering gladiators have proved to be worth every penny of the £330 million (HK$4.3 million) spent by the club's Abu Dhabi owners.

Not that we needed reminding, but Manchester City are proof that when you throw fistfuls of oil dollars at football clubs, many of them will stick to a title or two.

Manchester City are proof that when you throw fistfuls of oil dollars at football clubs, many of them will stick to a title or two

City's success should not distract from this season's excitement and intrigue, however, and who would confidently claim Sunday won't bring one last whiplash of this twisting tale?

Whatever the outcome - the inevitable or a surprise - this memorable campaign has seen the rise, fall and rebirth of several clubs.

Many predicted Manchester United would find life after Alex Ferguson challenging, yet few believed Old Trafford would display such prosaic football and record the inglorious achievement of mid-table mediocrity under David Moyes.

The renaissance of Liverpool under Brendan Rodgers and the redemption of Luis Suarez have been a joy to watch, and most neutrals continue to hope - slim as the odds are - Anfield will celebrate its first league title in 24 years and break the London-Manchester monopoly.

Temperamental Arsenal have the FA Cup final to look forward to and perhaps the fans' anger at Arsene Wenger will fade and he will stay on for another season.

Jose Mourinho proved not to be quite so special on his return to English football, but the maverick's presence adds to the theatre and Chelsea's attacking football was always compelling viewing.

Tottenham and their wasted millions must again regroup over the summer to once more hunt for the key that can unlock the door to that elusive fourth place. Everton, too, will take heart from a tenacious attempt to break into Europe, falling just short over the last furlong.

On the south coast, Southampton have offered high-pressing, attacking football at its best. St Mary's season-ticket holders have enjoyed the most successful season with record points won, and witnessing blistering football along the way. The target was a top 10 finish and the job has been completed in emphatic fashion.

Less than a month ago Sunderland manager Gus Poyet said "it would be a miracle" if the Black Cats survived. Miraculously they have and Poyet said this week he "will start believing in miracles" henceforth.

No surprises that Cardiff have been returned to the Championship. If ever there was a cautionary tale for other clubs about destruction of a vain, meddling owner, then Vincent Tan's reign should be inscribed in stone.

After 13 years, Fulham are dropping out of the league and it seems almost certain long-termers Norwich will join them.

Perhaps these nine gripping months were best defined by Monday's game between Crystal Palace and Liverpool in what now looks likely to have been the title decider.

When Liverpool imploded at Selhurst Park we witnessed one of the greatest matches in the league's history, one full of signature attacking football, great teamwork and individual flair - plus an incredible, unlikely comeback spoiler.

Palace, who looked ripe relegation candidates two months ago, had nothing to play for against Liverpool. The Reds however had everything riding on the game. But Palace, who could finish no higher than 12th, were brimming with pride. Manager Tony Pulis could have fielded a second-string side and the players could have been forgiven for thinking about their avoiding a late injury to blight their summer holiday.

But after going 3-0 down, Palace instead struck back with that priceless commodity - integrity. They equalised with the most unexpected of goals and reminding everyone that when the EPL boasts it is the best in the world it is not always marketing hyperbole.

Moreover, after another season during which the scourge of modern sport - match-fixing - reared its ugly head, the game defiantly thumbed its nose at the international betting syndicates who seek to poison the purity of sporting competition with their tainted money and wicked greed.

During those 11 pulsating minutes at Selhurst Park, both teams sent a loud message to the corrupters that though sport in their own countries and elsewhere might be crooked, the EPL cannot be bought.

Like Palace, our teams compete for something of higher value - to win a game of football fairly, squarely and with probity. It's been a season to make fans proud.