ESPNSTAR pundit Steve McMahon believes Manchester City will face one final test of their Barclays Premier League title credentials on Sunday when they travel to play Newcastle.
Following Monday’s 1-0 win over Manchester United, the Citizens appear destined for their first league triumph in 44 years, despite being ahead of their bitter rivals only on goal difference.
With two games left to go in what has been an enthralling campaign, City will be aware that six points from 180 minutes of football will prove sufficient, regardless of what Sir Alex Ferguson’s charges do against Swansea and Sunderland.
However, before they can be crowned champions of England, Mancini’s men face one final test against Newcastle, and based on current form, it could just prove to be their toughest yet.
The Magpies have been one of the most entertaining sides in the Premier League this term and head into Sunday’s game on the back of an impressive 2-0 win at Chelsea. Alan Pardew has the players necessary to give City a real test at the Sports Direct Arena, and considering Champions League qualification is still a possibility, you can be sure they will be fired up for the occasion.
It looks set to be one of the best matches of the season, with the indomitable Vincent Kompany coming up against the irrepressible Papiss Cisse, while David Silva and Yohan Cabaye will both look to pull the strings for their respective sides.
While I have been impressed with Newcastle, I doubt they have what it takes to deliver another twist in the title race, as City look too strong, and too close to victory, to get anything less than a win at the weekend.
Unfortunately for Pardew’s men, defeat to the Citizens will also signal the end of their top-four hopes, as there is no chance Arsenal and Tottenham will both lose their remaining two games.
It will be a cruel end to what has been a brilliant campaign, but if you had told Pardew at the start of the season that his side would finish fifth, he would have accepted it with open arms.
Tottenham’s 4-1 win over Bolton on Wednesday not only bolstered their hopes for a top-four finish, but further strengthened the notion that Harry Redknapp was genuinely distracted by the England managerial vacancy.
With his future at White Hart Lane no longer uncertain, his players rediscovered the rampant brand of football they displayed in the first half of the season, and will put themselves in with a good chance of playing Champions League football (unless Chelsea decide to win the thing altogether).
While the fact he’s staying is very good news for Spurs, I must admit I was extremely shocked the Football Association didn’t even interview him and went straight for Roy Hodgson as the new England manager.
Clearly, the FA had a different view from the public and the media, and was swayed by Hodgson’s technical abilities. With a good number of the current crop of Three Lions stars (Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand) all nearing the end of glittering careers, he appears to be the most suitable man to nurture England’s next breed of stars, although what bearing that has on their Euro 2012 prospects remains to be seen. The fans surely can’t have been too happy to hear him declare the quarterfinals as his target for the tournament.
While it’s important he’s given enough time to do a job before we start passing judgment, it’s also worthwhile noting that he hasn’t done well when he’s in charge of teams under intense scrutiny.
He did well to steady a shaky Inter Milan ship when he took over in 1995 but failed to lead the club to silverware in two seasons, and was literally chased out of the club when the Nerazzurri faithful pelted coins and lighters at him after their 1997 UEFA Cup final defeat to Schalke.
More recently, he took charge at Liverpool for all of 31 matches, before he was unceremoniously sacked after just six months in charge.
If Hodgson thought the pressure had been intense at Inter and Liverpool, he’s in for a rude shock when he takes charge of his first England game.
Speaking of Liverpool, their season will be defined on Saturday when they take on Chelsea in the FA Cup final. If they lose and have only the Carling Cup to show for their efforts, it would have been a failure of a season. However, if they finish with both domestic cups to their name, I feel it would have been a fairly successful campaign.
As Steven Gerrard mentioned earlier in the week, players live to win trophies and considering the Reds didn’t have any European commitments to begin with, two out of three ain’t bad, is it?
It will be a close encounter but with Chelsea distracted by their upcoming Champions League final against Bayern Munich, I’m backing Liverpool to do the double.
Former Liverpool and England International Steve McMahon is a football expert with ESPN. Catch him on ESPN’s coverage of the Barclays Premier League.