City Looking To Peak At The Right Time

City can go top for the first time since January 29, whilst Paul Lambert, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce might all need wins to save their jobs. It's Daniel Storey's Big Weekend...

Last Updated: 01/05/14 at 16:51 Post Comment

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Manchester City

By 7.30pm on Saturday we may finally have a tangible notion of who is going to end this most intriguing of Premier League title races on top of the pile. Win at Goodison and just two home games against West Ham and Aston Villa will stand between City and a second title in three seasons.

Manuel Pellegrini will hope that Everton manage to shoot themselves in both feet as spectacularly as last weekend, when headed own goals from Antonin Alcaraz and Seamus Coleman put paid to the club's realistic hopes of Champions League football next season, but City's task is unlikely to be so easy. Everton have lost just three of their last 41 league games at Goodison in a run stretching back to March 2012. Only City themselves can equal that feat in the Premier League.

What's more, City have a filthy recent record away at Everton - four consecutive league defeats at Goodison and a run stretching back to 1993 that has garnered one win and nine defeats in 15 matches.

Much may depend on whether Phil Jagielka and/or Sylvain Distin are fit to start the match, because one would fancy Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and Yaya Toure's chances against Alcaraz and John Stones, no matter how assured the young Englishman has looked of late, but doubts still remain about City's own ability to make things difficult for themselves.

However, with just two weeks of the season remaining City have the fate of the title race back in their hands. Beat Everton and they will top the table for the first time since January 29, and could feasibly win the league despite being top for just five days all season. The old adage about peaking at the right time is ringing true once again.

Weird Feelings In Liverpool

A weekend spent hoping for your city rivals help you out. As I said in 16 Conclusions last weekend, on Saturday Liverpool will be a city with bizarrely split loyalties. Liverpool will desperately want Everton to win, and many Evertonians may well want their own side to lose.

The blue half of Merseyside handing the title to the red half would be a truly remarkable end to a fascinating season.

Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew

Similarities between Allardyce and Pardew are easy to draw. One manages Newcastle having been in previously in charge at the Boleyn Ground, whilst the other has done the reverse. Both are currently in something of a dramatic funk (a great name for a soul band), West Ham having lost seven of their last nine matches and Newcastle on a rotten run of six defeats on the spin.

Both managers are also subject to intense pressure from their own supporters. During Monday night's game at the Emirates, Newcastle supporters could be heard chanting "We'll have a party when Pardew is sacked" before sarcastically referring to their manager's conveyor belt of excuses. They have completely lost faith in a man they deem to be a puppet for the inertia at their beloved club.

Allardyce has his own issue with fan power. Over 12,000 supporters took part in an opinion poll this week across 16 independent West Ham websites, with 78% declaring their support for his sacking. It's not a great indictment, and the vitriol received by Allardyce from the stands at the Hawthorns last week forced co-owner David Sullivan into a reaction. "I am not saying anything now," Gold said. "We'll discuss it at the end of the season as we always do."

Whilst Pardew has probably burned his bridges irrevocably, his West Ham counterpart reportedly still has two matches to save his job after summer spending of over £21m on Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing bought a relegation battle rather than another top-ten finish.

"They won't want to see them play well and lose," was Allardyce's admission this week. "They want to see them play well and win. We've got to get better and be more resilient - the lads have got it in their own hands, they know what they need to do."

Fail to inspire those "lads" to gain at least a point at home to Spurs on Saturday lunchtime and Allardyce may well face his third Premier league sacking in just over six years.

Tim Sherwood

Amidst all the rent-a-quote evidence to indicate that Sherwood is a man out of his depth with two bricks tied around each ankle, should Spurs beat West Ham on Saturday and Aston Villa on the final day, he will have guided Spurs to the same record points total that Andre Villas-Boas managed last season.

He will not keep his job at White Hart Lane, and there are overwhelming reasons for him not doing so, but that would be an impressive way for him to bow out of Premier League management, at least temporarily. Given the very public discussions of his job over the last two months, it would be difficult to begrudge Sherwood that comfort.

Tim Sherwood's replacement

Although evidently not the only factor (so don't be mean to me), Liverpool have benefited hugely this season without European competition to provide added distraction and fatigue. Spurs will have played 11 more matches than Liverpool by the end of the season, including trips as far as Tblisi, Kaspiysk, Tiraspol, Tromso, Dnipropetrovs'k and Norwich.

It might not be Tim Sherwood's ideal plan, but should Spurs lose to West Ham on Saturday lunchtime, the possibility of Manchester United catching Spurs in sixth would be made very real indeed given United's game in hand against Hull in midweek. That may well be an almighty blessing in disguise for whoever replaces Sherwood this summer.

Paul Lambert

Some wonderfully ambitious work from Paul Lambert's PR team this week, with claims being made that the manager will be backed in the summer with moves for Javier Hernandez, Joleon Lescott and Lewis Holtby. The first of those made yours truly do a tea spit, so Mr Lambert owes me £24.99 for a new keyboard.

Such talk of transfer targets is a little premature given that Villa are yet to even confirm their Premier League status for next season - we suspect that Hernandez was thinking more Champions League than Championship. Lambert's presence at Villa Park beyond June is also far from guaranteed. He is a man treated with the ultimate disdain by a large percentage of supporters tired of watching dross being served up on an almost weekly basis.

As it happens, Villa probably are safe. Given their superior less woeful goal difference, Norwich would have to get four more points or Cardiff five more than Villa in their final games, and given the opponents both of those two face, it all seems highly unlikely.

Lambert would be foolish to be proud of his side's efforts. The Premier League's bottom half has been desperately short of quality this season, and Lambert has now spent over £40m since arriving at Villa Park.

Speaking on December 31, he promised improvement. "We are three points off 10th. It's not all doom and gloom," Lambert said. "We are not sitting not too bad in the table. Hopefully one or two are coming back now [from injury]. We will be in a better place for it. The turn of the last year we went on a great run. We will try and do it again."

Fifteen points from 16 games has been that 'great run' this time around, evidence of a manager treading water. Beat Hull and Aston Villa will at least be safe for another season, but that should not be sufficient to match the club's expectation. Alex McLeish was sacked after taking exactly one point per league game. Is a rise of 0.04 points per game really enough to keep Lambert in his job?

Cardiff City

It may take until the end of the 362nd match of a 380-game Premier League season, but come Saturday 5pm, we may finally have lost our first Premier League club to the Championship. Even if Cardiff's fate is postponed to the final day by Sunderland losing at Old Trafford, Gus Poyet's side can seal Caridff's relegation on Wednesday at home to West Brom. It looks like a case of 'when' rather than 'if'.

However, there is still hope. Should Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side win at St James' Park for the second time this season, they may well be out of the bottom three on Saturday evening. Given that their opponents have scored three goals at home since Boxing Day, Cardiff must try and play with a degree of attacking freedom and exploit the ill feeling on Tyneside.

Or, alternatively, Cardiff will continue a run of one away win in 15 matches (and 32 goals conceded in that period) and crumple like a paper cup tossed into a dirty roadside puddle from a car window. For an example of what that looks like, watch their last away performance in the north east. Last weekend's shambles at the Stadium of Light was limper that Bizkit.

Norwich

Joining Cardiff barring an extraordinary turnaround of form. That's just not going to come at Stamford Bridge, is it?

Swansea and Southampton

A rubber more meaningless than the one I've had in my wallet since 2006. Somebody hold me.

Daniel Storey - Follow him on Twitter.

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