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Richard Jolly
Monday, May 12, 2014

Sports

City should hammer in final nail

The Straits Times | Richard Jolly | Monday, May 12, 2014

Manchester City's Edin Dzeko (C) celebrates after scoring a goal against Aston Villa during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester, northern England May 7, 2014.

A season of stylish football and seismic statistics should end with the most meaningful fact of all: Manchester City are the 2013-14 Premier League champions.

If it does not, this will be a collapse to bracket with Liverpool's sudden capitulation at Crystal Palace on Monday. Or, indeed, City's own struggles for much of the final day in 2012.

Then, they trailed 1-2 to relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers, only for Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero to ink their names into City history with stoppage-time goals that denied Manchester United the crown.

Two years on, the requirements are on a lesser scale. City, who have won their last four games and dropped only five points at home all season, just need a draw against West Ham.

Under normal circumstances, few would envisage them failing to win. But this is City, a club who know from bitter experience that it is best not to take anything for granted.

This is the craziest of title races, one where Liverpool squandered a three-goal lead against Palace and Chelsea managed to lose to Palace, Sunderland and Aston Villa.

But it would be the biggest shock of all if City were to slip up now.

Admittedly, West Ham can be at their most resilient on their travels. They have conceded fewer league goals on the road than City, Liverpool and Arsenal.

They kept a clean sheet at Stamford Bridge, which prompted Jose Mourinho to accuse them of playing "19th-century football".

City's modern, fast, technically excellent game is both 21st-century football and, in the sheer volume of goals, 1930s football.

They brought up a century in the league alone in Wednesday's 4-0 win over Aston Villa.

Only one other team has been as prolific in half a century. Score four more and Chelsea's Premier League record of 103 goals will be erased from the history books.

Manager Manuel Pellegrini claims the attacking ethos and their aesthetic appeal matter as much as the results and, if few believe him, City are indeed securing marks for artistic merit as well as points for performances.

While they wait to see if their most ruthless finisher, Aguero, is fit to reprise his heroics of 2012, their enviable assembly of attacking talents ought to be able to find holes in another blanket defence.

There is some frustration among their fans that David Silva's understated artistry has not brought him more accolades.

Yaya Toure has become just the second central midfielder ever to get 20 goals in a Premier League season but still came in only third in the Footballer of the Year vote.

Yet, the collective honours matter more than individual awards and if City can play with panache, pace and power for one more game, they will have their reward.

stsports@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 10 in The Straits Times.

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