Manchester City will aim to wrap up the Premier League title when Aston Villa pay a visit to the Etihad Stadium for Sunday’s final-day showdown.
The Citizens currently hold a one-point lead over Liverpool at the top of the table, while the Lions still have the slightest hope of finishing in the top half.
A few Man City fans may have prematurely got the bottles of champagne out when Nathan Redmond gave Southampton the lead against Liverpool, but the Reds turned the tie around to ensure that the race for glory would go right down to the final day.
Pep Guardiola‘s side would only need a point this weekend had they secured victory over West Ham United, but a disjointed side went 2-0 behind to Jarrod Bowen‘s brace before Jack Grealish and a Vladimir Coufal own goal rescued a point for the league leaders.
Regardless of what happens during Liverpool’s meeting with Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield, victory for Man City would see them lift the Premier League trophy for the sixth time in 11 seasons, and a draw would also suffice if Jurgen Klopp‘s side slip up.
Guardiola will certainly not set his side up to draw, though, especially with City now finding the back of the net at least twice in their last eight Premier League matches, and their unbeaten run in the top flight now stands at 11 games.
The Citizens have also eased to three consecutive home wins over Brighton & Hove Albion, Watford and Newcastle United in the past few weeks – scoring 13 goals and conceding just one – and Guardiola’s 100% record of five wins from five on the final day is also on the line here.
Steven Gerrard never won a Premier League title at Liverpool, but the Villa boss could now win the title for Liverpool, who are relying on their legendary midfielder to silence the Etihad crowd with his fatigued crop on the final day.
The Lions could not replicate their 3-1 Turf Moor win over Burnley from earlier this month as they played out a 1-1 draw with Mike Jackson‘s side on Thursday, and it was the visitors who went ahead through Ashley Barnes‘s spot kick before Emiliano Buendia got on the scoresheet himself.
Villa could have been heading for a defeat had it not been for a magnificent block from Tyrone Mings from Wout Weghorst‘s close-range effort, while a string of saves from Nick Pope also served to leave the Lions 14th in the table and three points adrift of 10th-placed Brighton & Hove Albion.
Failing to keep a clean sheet in four successive matches does not bode well for Villa – who have lost each of their last 11 league games on Man City’s turf – before a trip to the Etihad, while a paltry tally of two wins from their last 10 games in the Premier League can certainly be described as ending the season with a whimper.
Gerrard has all the motivation that he needs to try to get a result this weekend, but not since January 2000 have Villa won a Premier League match away from home to the league leaders – doing so at Leeds United – and continuing their recent spate of goal -laden home performances would be a fitting way for City to clinch the domestic crown.
Manchester City Premier League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):
Aston Villa Premier League form:
City could still be handed a couple of injury boosts ahead of the final day of the season, with Kyle Walker spirit John Stones both returning to team training earlier this week after initial fears that they would miss the rest of the campaign.
Stones could displace Fernandinho at center-back if he is fit enough, but Walker may not be risked, and Guardiola will definitely be without Ruben Dias and his new hamstring injury.
Guardiola did not make a single substitution at the London Stadium and may elect to keep Grealish in the starting XI against his former club, although Raheem Sterling could still return if penalty villain Riyad Mahrez makes way.
As for Villa, defender Ezri Konsa has begun his 16-week road to recovery from a serious knee injury, and he has joined in the treatment room by Kortney Hause and his troublesome abdominal problem.
Leon Bailey is also facing an uphill battle to make himself available due to a foot injury, and the quick turnaround should tempt Gerrard into a couple of alterations, starting with either Bertrand Traore or Philippe Coutinho displacing Carney Chukwuemeka.
Calum Chambers will continue to partner Mings at the back while Hause and Konsa remain out, while Danny Ings – another former Liverpool man – could provide some welcome fresh legs in the final third.
Manchester City possible starting lineup:
Ederson; Cancelo, Stones, Laporte, Zinchenko; Silva, Rodri, De Bruyne; Sterling, Jesus, Grealish
Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Cash, Chambers, Mings, Digne; McGinn, Luiz, Ramsey; Coutinho; Watkins, Ings
We say: Manchester City 4-1 Aston Villa
The potential and unexpectedly quick returns of Stones and Walker are gold dust for City, whose attacking capabilities are never called into question before they meet a leaky and depleted Aston Villa defense.
With a top-half finish surely now only a pipe dream, Villa realistically have nothing but pride on the line this week, and a customary Etihad thumping should await the out-of-form Lions as City lift the trophy aloft in front of their ardent fans.
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