You would think that Manchester City has now done the hard part — beating Aston Villa by a 4-0 score at home to go top of the Barclay’s Premier League with just four days and one match left in the season. After a dicey first half that featured more pensive parrying than all-out attack, there had to be some nerves among City fans with the score 0-0 at the break. The slightest of hopes had to re-emerge in the hearts of Liverpool supporters still reeling from their club’s collapse from 3-0 up against Crystal Palace just 48 hours earlier.
But a much more incisive second 45 minutes saw the Sky Blues first get the advantage, then double it through Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic added a third. Yaya Toure then rumbled through Villa’s defense like Yokozuna on roller skates to bash home the fourth in stoppage time. City lead Liverpool now by two points heading into Championship Sunday, in which all 10 Premier League matches will kickoff at the same time. Barring a 14-goal Liverpool win over Newcastle, City will just need a draw vs. West Ham to clinch its second league title in three years.
Sounds easy, right? If this crazy Premier League season hasn’t taught you otherwise by now, you haven’t been paying attention — and in that case, shame on you. Just look at what the last few days have brought us. Chelsea seemed a sure bet to win at home over now relegated Norwich City, but not only couldn’t they win, the Blues couldn’t even score in a 0-0 draw. Instead of playing its way to the final day, Chelsea are now eliminated. On Monday, Liverpool would have seemed likely to at least squeak out a win at Crystal Palace. But when a 1-0 lead ballooned to 3-0 early in the second half, there were realistic thoughts of the Reds scoring enough goals to make pipping City on goal difference for the title (what cruel irony that would have been for City after 2012) more than just a lark. Then, Palace scored three in 10 minutes and Liverpool forfeited its primary claim for the title. And on Tuesday, beleaguered Manchester United won a mostly meaningless match against FA Cup finalists Hull City with Ryan Giggs serving as player-manager. Few people saw any of that coming in August.
You can argue that City deserve to win the title then based on the fact that this week, it was the only club to complete its assignment. Manchester City needed a win and it got one. While it wasn’t pretty early, it was comprehensive and destructive late, leaving little doubt. But doubt has been a part of this entire Premier League season. Very little has gone as forecast in August, with only Arsenal finishing ahead of Tottenham being one of those regular rites of spring that you could still count on.
Realistically, there’s little reason to think West Ham is going to trip up Manchester City’s title coronation. City will be at home where it hasn’t lost since Feb. 3 (to Chelsea). West Ham are 12th, safe from regulation, and will be playing merely to hold its position in order to claim more league prize money. West Ham have scored but 15 goals away from home this season, while Manchester City have 61 in just its home matches. But assuming a match is going to go as it should on paper has proved a foolish exercise in the Premier League this season. From top to bottom (consider Sunderland’s rise to safety from the bottom of the league), every week of the campaign has brought a new surprise. Manchester City should beat West Ham by two or three goals on Sunday. But if City approach the game thinking it’s in the bag, the Sky Blues will learn the tough lesson every other club has experienced this year — this season in the Premier League never goes as anyone would expect.