The publication of fixtures for the upcoming Premier League season last summer sparked the usual scramble to spot derbies and other big games for Manchester City, but little was made of Aston Villa at home on the final day. Who and where you play your final game is always random, and with the last three leagues being wrapped up before then there was no need for undue focus on it.
As the year has progressed, the narrative of the game has grown and grown until it has reached a feverish pitch with City’s draw at West Ham. Providing Liverpool get something at Southampton on Tuesday, Jack Grealish has the chance to win the biggest trophy in English football against his boyhood club who pocketed £100m for him last summer.
Standing in his and City’s way is Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, the former Liverpool captain who was famously pictured shouting at his Liverpool teammates towards the end of the 2013/14 campaign that they must not let their grip on the title slip. Of course, as Premier League narrative dictates, he then went on to literally slip against Chelsea to allow Demba Ba to score at Anfield and, not long after, Manuel Pellegrini’s City to win the title.
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Gerrard never managed to win the league in his distinguished career but can help his former club to do it now, although he has spent much of the opening months of his time at Villa Park trying to distance himself from those that see him using the Midlands as a stepping stone to take over from Jurgen Klopp. As of last weekend, Villa also have permanently on their books Philippe Coutinho – one of Liverpool’s best players from the 2013/14 season – whose sale to Barcelona unintentionally helped create the monster that Klopp’s side became.
Despite all of this, the only story Pep Guardiola was interested in telling after their draw with West Ham was his pride at having the chance to win the title in front of City supporters. He has never managed it before, with two of their three previous titles confirmed by United dropping points and the third won at Brighton on the final day.
This is nice, although brushes over the fact that the Blues could have won the title at home twice already if Guardiola had not prioritized other competitions. In 2018, a league game with United was sandwiched between their crunch Champions League quarter-final with Liverpool and a weakened City team inexplicably threw away a two-goal lead; in 2021, their home game with Chelsea came immediately after their Champions League semi-final win over PSG and a weakened City team inexplicably threw away a one-goal lead (including an awful Panenka attempt from Sergio Aguero).
Those games, though, would have seen the league wrapped up ahead of schedule. And while City’s manager likes to win things as quickly as possible, he also relishes the grandest stages – the opportunity to win the toughest league in the world on the final day when the stakes could not be higher with the world watching is immensely exciting.
Thanks to the randomness of the generated Premier League fixtures, Guardiola has what he considers to be the dream opportunity. All he and the players have to do to make sure they don’t give the fans any nightmares on the day.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.