MANCHESTER City’s desire to retain the English Premier League title tomorrow was heightened recently by their elimination from the Champions League.
In essence, the domestic title is their last chance at a piece of silverware this season, and the Citizens know it full well.
They also understand that they go into the last day of the season with a distinct advantage over their closest rival, Liverpool, and they each have one game to go, with City a point ahead.
A win would secure the Manchester side a fourth league crown in five seasons and a sixth over the past 11 years.
That is a remarkable return by any account and is a clear illustration of how dominant they have been, and why they start as outright favourites to beat Aston Villa at the Etihad tomorrow.
Pep Guardiola is well aware that if they win, no matter what Liverpool do against Wolves, England’s most coveted football title will remain in their trophy cabinet for the next 12 months.
But experience and history would have taught the wily Spaniard to be wary of what could happen should they become complacent. Indeed, City will field a backline shorn of its regular personnel and – in Villa manager Steven Gerrard –face a former Anfield skipper who is widely regarded as their best player ever.
This means that the playing field is somewhat level for the neutrals. But the question is, to what extent? And therein lies City’s advantage.
Regardless of who Guardiola’s starting XI are, the lads in sky blue will be expected to win, and they should. It’s not a given, but they should win it.
One key change that Guardiola may be forced into, is moving Fernandinho back into a midfield holding role.
The 37-year-old Brazilian started in central defence in their last two fixtures and was brutally exposed, particularly at West Ham, coming up short by more than just the proverbial yard.
City have had to make do without the services of Kyle Walker, Ruben Dias and John Stones, who have all been sidelined due to injuries.
It will be interesting to see if youngsters Conrad Egan-Riley and Lucas Mbete, both 19, get the nod for a bit of first-team action.
City, who have reportedly signed Norwegian star Erling Haaland for £51mil (about RM82.15mil) and are said to be interested in Brighton defender Marc Cucurella, may want to keep an eye on the movements of Villa forwards Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, players who would be keen on doing Liverpool and their boss Gerrard a favour.
The scrap at the bottom of the table is also not done yet, with either Burnley in 17th place or Leeds (18th) set to join Watford and Norwich on the way down.
It’s a tight call who it will be, with the clubs equal on points and separated only by goal difference – Burnley’s is superior. They each have a fixture that they could win and yet also so easily lose.
Burnley face rejuvenated Newcastle, while Leeds are away to Brentford.
If one were to make a call, perhaps it would be Leeds to get relegated and Mancheseter City to retain their title.