Let's Keep The Excitement Going, Shall We?

The Premier League title race is shaping up to climax in quite remarkable style. That is, unless Chelsea and Manchester City stuff things up this weekend. Please don't...

Last Updated: 18/04/14 at 12:14 Post Comment

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Chelsea and Manchester City
Many neutrals may not have a horse in the Premier League title race, perhaps because all the potential title-winning options aren't especially palatable and they would like everyone to lose. A close second to that would at least be an exciting run-in, with a climax to rival 2012, only this time with the prospect of three teams being in the hunt on the final day, not just two.

Chelsea's trip to Anfield on April 27 is quite obviously being billed as a title-decider, but that could quite literally be the case if Jose Mourinho and Manuel Pellegrini's sides manage to stuff things up this weekend. Should Chelsea and Manchester City lose (to Sunderland and West Brom respectively) and Liverpool win, it will leave the People's Champions (according to the giddier members of the fourth estate) requiring a win over the Blues to claim the most unlikely title of the Premier League era.

While that will be a great story, it might be something of an anti-climax for those of us with so little in our miserable lives that we must look to a razor-thin title race to rouse us from the stupor that everyday life leaves us in.

Well, sort of. We just want some exciting football please, so be good chaps and keep it going right until the end, yes?


Liverpool
It's close. Oh boy oh boy it's close. They can virtually smell the trophy polish.

The temptation will be to look beyond the trip to Norwich this weekend and to the Chelsea game, and perhaps even the potential hiccup of Crystal Palace away in a few weeks, but one suspects Brendan Rodgers has his side far too focused for that.

Steven Gerrard is making the right noises in that respect, at least. "We have to treat Norwich like we treated AC Milan in 2005," he said on Thursday, presumably not meaning by going 3-0 down then scrambling an implausible win in the most heart attack-inducing circumstances.

"We have to forget what colour their kit is and the personnel wearing it and treat them as the best players in the world. We have to forget where we are and forget what we've done. We have to prepare for Norwich like it's the last game of our careers. Every game is going to get bigger and bigger because we are getting close to that last game of the season.

"Of course Man City was always going to be huge at Anfield because they are in the race with us but Norwich now become Man City, Norwich now become Chelsea, Manchester United - that's how big it is."

Even if that is all true, Rodgers admitted Daniel Sturridge might be struggling to make this one after the injury he picked up against City, and even though it would be extremely tempting to patch him up and send him out there at Carrow Road, it would probably be prudent, if there is any doubt, to leave the striker out with the more taxing games ahead in mind.

In any case, if Luis Suarez continues his form against the Canaries (11 goals in four games) then Sturridge won't be required, but if the England man declares himself fit and ready, Rodgers will be left with an interesting call.


Norwich
There were signs of life against Fulham last weekend. Norwich lost perhaps the most important game of their season, but they were at least better in the 1-0 defeat to Felix Magath's side than they had been in previous weeks, which admittedly was not tricky. The obvious problem being that signs of life are all very well, but until those signs translate into points, they are just a comfort blanket to cling onto as the ship goes down.

It's been a familiar refrain from this column, and indeed this website in recent months that Norwich basically needed the requisite points to survive before their final four fixtures, but having collected just four from their last available 21, and with Fulham and even Cardiff suddenly starting to resemble competent football teams, it doesn't look good for Neil Adams' side.

All Norwich really have to make them think survival is possible now is those few sparks at Fulham, and the knowledge that football, as witnessed at Goodison Park and the Etihad on Wednesday night, is not a logical business. If Sunderland can draw with and damn nearly beat Manchester City, then anything is possible, right? Right?


Fulham
Fulham's Twitter account informed the world on Thursday that Felix Magath's kids are now proud owners of Cottagers shirts. What does that tell us? Well, absolutely nothing, obviously, but since Magath is 60, it's perfectly possible that his progeny are in their 30s, raising the hilarious prospect of some glum-faced German young men and women, perhaps even with kinder of their own, being handed Fulham shirts and told to be happy about it.

Still, perhaps Magaths Jnr are so proud of their dad reviving Fulham's form that they have invested some of their hard-earned (because they are old enough to have their own jobs now) in some finest quality adidas sportswear.

For Magath has started what could be a revival at the Cottage. Granted, the two wins in their last two games were against Aston Villa and Norwich, a couple of the most rancid teams currently stinking up the Premier League, but six points is six points, and at this stage of the season when many had written them off weeks ago, one cannot sniff at the way and against whom one gains these points.

With Norwich now very much in their sights, Fulham could continue a quite remarkable turnaround, with win over Tottenham on Saturday, which will take them out of the relegation zone for at least a day, heady heights they have not hit since the end of January. No wonder the Magaths are so pleased.

Of course, Felix could be a late spawner, and his offspring are still of an age where they can be shoved into the replica kit of their dad's team, like Teutonic versions of John Selwyn Gummer's daughter having a British burger shoved in her face. I don't know - I haven't looked it up. You might call that lazy journalism, I call it choosing to believe the funniest option and doing everything possible not to spoil it.


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Could the double great escape be on? Like Fulham, Cardiff had been given up on by many as doomed to a relegation that would obviously give Solskjaer's reputation as a young manager of great promise a pretty good kick in the pants.

If Cardiff survive this relegation scrap that is destined to be described by cultural historians as 'batsh*t', then Solskjaer can start again, with a proper pre-season and probably the players he wants, rather than the ones he was left with/had to scrape together in January.

They've got Stoke at home this weekend. It could happen you know.


Aston Villa
Football is a stupid sport. That's what you'd imagine Paul Lambert has been grumbling to himself this week, kicking the floor and staring long and deep into a mug of comforting tea, presumably accompanied by a Tunnocks caramel wafer.

A few weeks ago he was doing a solid rebuilding job at Aston Villa, striking the delicate balance of reducing the club's wage bill and keeping their collective head above water, but after four straight defeats - limp, spineless defeats, by and large - Villa are in some relegation trouble and Lambert is under pressure.

Added to that, two of Lambert's coaches were suspended this week for unspecified reasons, all of which points to a club not in the best of humours at present, so much so that Randy Lerner felt the need to speak in public about the situation this week, in the process losing ground in his competition with Stan Kroenke to be football's answer to Howard Hughes. Only probably without that unfortunate 'keeping jars of his own wee' business.

Villa are in 13th place, four points off the relegation spots and with a game in hand, so the chances of them actually going down are relatively slim, but that doesn't mean that life is swell with Lambert's boys. If they continue along this current path they may only survive due to the incompetence of others, rather than by their own virtues.

That's no good for anyone's morale or self-esteem, so a win against Southampton this weekend looks like a must.


Alan Pardew
It's a similar story in Newcastle, the difference being that at least in their case they have no chance of going down, and their slump is more born from apathy and their squad picking out mankinis and beer helmets, ready for their summer jollies.

Despite their recent run - four straight defeats, shipping 12 unanswered goals in the process - Newcastle are still fairly safe in ninth place. That, of course, is not exactly cause to crack out the bunting, and it is perhaps more the conduct of their manager that has caused the 'Pardew out' banners to start appearing among the Toon fans. Quite apart from his absence from the touchline after that silly headbutting farrago, trying to shift the blame to the local press (inspiring this quite splendid response from the Sunday Sun) was probably not the smartest move.

"They are fair," Pardew said of the protests this week. "We haven't really been fair to them with performances."

At least he's right about that. Some evidence of this recognition on the pitch, starting against Swansea on Saturday, would be nice.


Swansea
Speaking of the Swans, they are quietly slipping and sliding into some quite serious bother. Results last weekend left them just three points above the drop zone, and they have won only once in the last nine games. You can add them to the list of teams where trouble is bubbling within the squad too, after reports of a scrap involving two players at training were confirmed by a club spokesman.

"We're not in a good position, clearly," said Garry Monk this week. "We're not secure and we have four games left - it's not a situation we want to be in.

"The difference is we're not chasing anything, we're not looking to scramble six or seven points to get out of it.

"We have it in our own hands but we have to do something quickly and get points on the board in our next game. The players are aware of it but it's a case of making sure we do it. Two wins should make it secure but we can only think about winning the next game."

Ah, if only it was that simple.


Arsenal
Thrown a bone by Crystal Palace beating Everton, Arsenal now have to pick it up and chew on it by collecting three points against Hull. Or something like that.


David Moyes
A homecoming of sorts, but not quite one of a conquering hero returning to lord it over the little people he used to walk among, more one for a child who fled for the bright lights, only to find himself overwhelmed and living in a grim bedsit somewhere, hoping to catch a break or at least a meal that he doesn't have to eat cold, straight out of the tin, using a biro.

Moyes will probably be greeted back at Goodison Park with a certain degree of warmth, by a crowd grateful for the fine job he did, but with the sure knowledge that they have traded up. It will be a strange day indeed for the Manchester United manager.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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