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City on brink of Premier League title

May 8, 2014

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — The climax to this season has taught us there’s no such thing as a foregone conclusion in the English Premier League.

Manchester City avoiding defeat at home to West Ham, however, is as close it gets.

And that’s all City need to achieve on Sunday to clinch a second championship in three years. Given its superior goal difference over second-place Liverpool, City requires only a draw at Etihad Stadium to win the league, and few would bet against it.

Certainly City manager Manuel Pellegrini was talking as if it was job done after seeing his team beat Aston Villa 4-0 on Wednesday to climb above Liverpool and go top by two points.

Showing bullishness and refreshing honesty, Pellegrini spoke eloquently about how he expects to be holding aloft the trophy on Sunday and that “there are different ways to win titles — I choose this one with attractive football.”

Asked where the title had been won and lost, he could have rolled out a stock answer of “There’s still one game left to play” or “Anything can happen.” Instead he pinpointed City’s improving away form after a suspect start to the season and the fact that the team has “always continued believing.”

It’s easy to see why Pellegrini is so confident.

City has played West Ham three times this season — once in the league and over two legs in the League Cup semifinals — and won every match, scoring 12 goals in the process. In their one meeting at the Etihad, City won 6-0 and it could have been a lot more.

Going into Sunday’s match, City has the league’s best home record, with 16 wins and a draw from its 18 games. The team averages almost four goals a game in front of its own fans, and has just broken through the 100-goal barrier for the campaign.

West Ham, by contrast, is a notoriously poor traveler, winning only four of its 18 away games in the league, scoring only 15 goals.

Neutrals hoping for an exciting climax to the season will point to Sunderland’s wins at Chelsea and Manchester United in recent weeks and Liverpool’s collapse from 3-0 up against Crystal Palace to draw, and say there is still life in the title race.

Indeed, Villa manager Paul Lambert feels Liverpool should not give up hope, saying: “I have seen some strange things happen on the last day.”

It is worth remembering that when City won the title in 2012, it was also at home against a modest opponent on the final day, but trailed 10-man Queen’s Park Rangers and needed two goals in stoppage time to snatch the championship.

For most observers, though, City effectively sealed the title on Wednesday.

For 63 minutes against Villa, City met stubborn resistance in the shape of an ultra-defensive opponent who played with nine men behind the ball. The crowd was anxious by midway through the first half, imploring the team to get the ball forward and groaning at each minor mistake.

Pellegrini was calm personified in his technical area, though, and that must have transmitted to his players. Eventually the breakthrough came, City scoring four goals in the final 26 minutes as relief spread through the Etihad.

With an improving defense, midfielders Yaya Toure and David Silva back fit and a striker in such good goal-scoring form as Edin Dzeko, Pellegrini has few reasons to worry.

City has regained its form just at the right time, winning its last four games and scoring 32 goals in its last 11 games. Liverpool has dropped five points in its last two games, and third-place Chelsea, which was knocked out of title contention by Wednesday’s result, picked up just one point from its two most recent home matches against relegation candidates Sunderland and Norwich.

The title is there for the taking for City, and Pellegrini wants his players to grasp the opportunity with style.

“It will be very important, not only the title but in the way we are going to win the title if finally we win it,” the Chilean said. “We are an attractive team, we score many goals and we are always thinking to score more goals.

“That to me has the same importance as winning the title.”

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