MAY 5 — Wow, more twists to the tale! What an English Premier League (EPL) season this is turning out to be. Just two weeks ago the title seemed all but wrapped up by Manchester United, third place was almost guaranteed for Arsenal and Wolverhampton Wonderers sure-fire relegation candidates. The only thing that remains unchanged now is the fact that Wolves are indeed relegated to the Championship while elsewhere things are unfolding in such unbelievable twists and turns that you’d think that this season is being written by a Hollywood script writer.
We’ve gotten more than used to football pundits proclaiming that Manchester United know better than any other team how to win a title, how to carry themselves over the finish line no matter how relatively average the team is. The way Manchester City wilted under pressure just a month back by dropping points like they’re carrying a sack full of holes, and how Manchester United ruthlessly disposed of teams in a remarkable run of matches and points seemed to only confirm the pundits’ opinions.
However, I guess no one ever thought that United can somehow design to surrender an eight-point lead this late in the season, and even though City beating United 1-0 earlier this week marks a significant turning point for City in the race for the EPL title, it’s United’s shock defeat to Wigan and failure to beat Everton in the three winnable matches prior to that which resulted in their current predicament and substantial pressure when the time came for them to face their city rivals.
With two more matches to go and despite City having their destiny in their own hands now that they’re tied on points with United with a much bigger goal difference, there’s bound to be a few more twists to the tale as City is set to face the very much in-form Newcastle United this weekend and relegation threatened Queens Park Rangers next whilst Manchester United have a seemingly much easier run-in against Swansea and Sunderland. To have the race for the EPL title go down to the wire like this is something us neutrals would love to see happen year in, year out, so I’m just thankful that it’s happening this year.
Equally exciting and packed with drama is the previous battle for fourth place between Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle and Chelsea that’s suddenly turned into a battle for third and fourth between Arsenal, Spurs and Newcastle, thanks to Arsenal unexpectedly dropping points in the last few games, allowing Spurs and Newcastle to claw back to within only one point behind them with only two more games to go. Even when Arsenal lost to Wigan and drew with Chelsea I could only watch on in pain as my beloved Spurs seemed unable to get out of their poor form ever since Harry Redknapp’s name was touted as the leading candidate to become the new England manager.
I could only grit my teeth as Newcastle and Chelsea gained win after win, point after point to close the previously huge gap we built behind us, with missing out on fourth place now looking like a very real possibility. With Chelsea pulling out that legendary Champions League semi-final win against Barcelona, there’s also another added element of drama to the race for the Champions League places next season as fourth place will not be enough if Chelsea were to win the Champions League this season.
Imagine the heartbreak if Newcastle, Arsenal or Spurs finish fourth only to have Chelsea win the Champions League, taking one of the four Champions League spot allocated to English clubs. As much as it’ll hurt me as a Spurs fan if that happens to my club, I’d feel even more hurt for the brilliant underdogs that is Newcastle, for they have confounded all expectations by even being in the race for the Champions League spots, all on a relatively small budget, with a team of relative nobodies.
And down at the bottom of the table, in addition to Wolves who were already relegated, Blackburn Rovers look almost doomed towards the same fate with two matches to go against Chelsea and fellow relegation battlers Wigan, who have been hugely impressive of late with shock defeats of Arsenal, Manchester United and Newcastle United helping them crawl out of the hole.
Unless Wigan somehow contrives to go off form, the final relegation place looks set to be a straight battle between Bolton and Queens Park Rangers, but stranger things have happened this season, and the football fan in me can only thank my lucky stars to have so many things in the league still undecided, despite having only two matches to go. It looks like everything’s going to go down the wire this season, and I’m going to really miss all this excitement come the end of this month..
* The views expressed here are the personal views of the columnist.