By Mike Collett
Manager Manuel Pellegrini expects Manchester City to be crowned English champions for the second time in three seasons with his side needing only a point from their final home game against West Ham United on Sunday afternoon (5pm).
City will win the Premier League unless Sam Allardyce’s West Ham pull off a major upset at the Etihad Stadium and Liverpool beat Newcastle United at Anfield.
City, who beat Aston Villa 4-0 on Wednesday, head into the final match of the season with 83 points, two ahead of Liverpool whose collapse at Crystal Palace on Monday when they blew a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3, left their title hopes in tatters.
“Of course, I expect to win the title now because we are top of the table,” Pellegrini said. “Winning the next game means we can win the title…
“We are not thinking of drawing. We are thinking of trying to play. As we did so far during the whole season here at the Etihad.”
The only way Liverpool can end their 24-year-wait for the title now is if City lose to West Ham and Liverpool win. If City draw and Liverpool win, City would win the title on goal difference.
City have beaten West Ham three times this season, winning 3-1 at Upton Park in the league and routing the Londoners 9-0 on aggregate in the Capital One (League) Cup semi-finals, so an upset looks unlikely.
Sergio Aguero, who scored the goal that won City the league in 2012, will be fit Pellegrini said in his final press conference ahead of the game.
The Argentine striker has bagged 17 league goals in an injury-hit season, and had looked a doubt for the finale after limping off in the 3-2 victory over Everton last weekend with a groin problem.
Pellegrini, however, confirmed he had no injury concerns, including Aguero, who grabbed a stoppage-time goal against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 which handed his team the Premier League trophy and sent the Etihad Stadium into raptures.
“The whole squad is fit,” Pellegrini said.
“It is very important because for a manager if you have your whole squad and can choose between all your players it is the most important thing.”
Should City secure a second Premier League crown in three seasons, it would be Pellegrini’s first league title since he won the Clausura with River Plate in Argentina in 2003 and a maiden success in Europe.
It would be well-deserved after he managed to re-motivate City’s illustrious talents after the disappointment of a trophyless season under former manager Roberto Mancini.
He also resisted the repeated verbal hand-grenades thrown his way by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho in his frequent efforts to throw him off kilter.
The Chilean, who has become known for his calm, emotionless exterior, said it would be business as usual against West Ham.
“It is a very important weekend because it is the last game,” he said.
“Every team must play every game to win. It doesn’t matter in which conditions they are playing, every team must want to win.”
The only other outstanding issues to be decided are whether Tottenham or Manchester United take the final Europa League place and the final confirmation of Norwich City’s relegation.
Norwich, who battled to a 0-0 draw at Chelsea last Sunday, have 33 points, three behind West Bromwich Albion but with a hugely inferior goal difference they look sure to go down.
Outgoing champions United and big-spending Tottenham have had to lower their ambitions after disappointing seasons.
Both teams would have been confident of challenging for Champions League places, but they changed managers during the campaign and are now eyeing the dubious consolation of a Europa League spot.
Tottenham, in sixth, go into their final match against Aston Villa at White Hart Lane knowing a point would ensure they take the Europa League spot in what could well be Tim Sherwood’s last match in charge.
United, who beat FA Cup finalists Hull City 3-1 in their last home match of the season, travel to Southampton in what is almost certain to be interim manager Ryan Giggs’ last game in charge with Louis van Gaal expected to be named as the manager following last month’s departure of David Moyes.
Only if United won and Spurs lost would United take sixth place thanks to a superior goal difference.
If United fail to do that their 24-year run of European football since English clubs were allowed to compete again after the end of the ban imposed following the Heysel Stadium disaster, will come to an end.
The last time United failed to qualify for Europe before the ban was imposed in 1985 was in 1981 when they finished eighth in the league.
There is little to play for apart from pride and prize money in the other games.
Chelsea travel to bottom club Cardiff who are returning to the Championship after their first season in the top flight since 1962 found them short of class.
Fulham, also doomed after 13 years in the top flight, host the season’s most improved team Crystal Palace, who were deep in relegation trouble when coach Tony Pulis arrived in November but have now climbed to 11th.