Room for a few more twists

Can someone explain to me what happened? Over Easter, defending English Premier League champions Manchester United had just taken an eight-point lead at the top of the table. With their only challengers Manchester City failing to respond accordingly as they lost to the Arsenal, the destination for this season’s title was, in the minds of many, effectively decided.

We were reminded many times that United always finish the season strongly and with their noses in front so emphatically, this campaign could only end one way—a record 20th title for the Red Devils. Three games later, from which Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has only managed the solitary point, the picture is very different and the champions are suddenly looking elsewhere for salvation.

During that period, meanwhile, the Citizens have recovered a bit of the form that made them look invincible before the turn of the year, clinical upfront and formidable at the back. They have got their just desserts, collecting maximum points to wipe out that lead and, in the process, soar to the summit of the table albeit on goal difference. The title is now theirs to lose.

Monday’s match at the Etihad Stadium was always going to be a tasty affair in the grand scheme of things and many thought it would be the ultimate decider. Form favoured the hosts who have not lost at home since 2010, but many pundits opined that United always find a way to get a result when they have to and suggested that this impeccable record was under serious threat.

Come the day, it was the curious team-selection by Sir Alex that immediately caught the eye. It seemed the veteran tactician was content in principally avoiding defeat instead of dealing a fatal blow on City’s title aspirations. The match itself was a far cry from the hype that preceded it. That it was settled by a first-half injury time set piece was more linked to a colourless contest than anything else.

So, was the title decided on Monday? No, it was not. Had United carried the day, there was going to be very little chance for City and the red side of Manchester would have effectively sealed the championship with a draw this weekend. As it stands now, the Citizens have simply seized the initiative, but there is still enough football for one or two more twists to the tale.

Of course, there is a catch. All the talk that United come good in the home stretch seems hollow as the last three matches have exposed the team’s limitations. They have lost form at the wrong time, shipping in a scary seven goals. The defence has showed worrying vulnerability and there is no guarantee that even if Newcastle United fulfil their part of the bargain, the Mancunians will be able to take advantage.

It, therefore, means we may have to wait for the final whistle on the very last day to know the identity of this season’s league champion. By that time, however, we will have known the FA Cup champion as Wembley Stadium hosts my Liverpool and Chelsea in the final later today. This will be the third time for the sides to meet and the Blues will be seeking some sweet revenge for the two home defeats earlier in the season.

Both sides go into the match on the back of disappointing league defeats in the week and the thinking may have been that today’s final was weighing too much on the minds of the players that took to the field in those games. No prices for guessing how I want this one to go.

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