Now City Have Everything To Lose...

It looks like that's that at the top of the table, but Liverpool cannot allow themselves to think for a second that they have thrown it away. Now is the time to crank up the pressure...

Last Updated: 03/05/14 at 21:15 Post Comment

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The championship may be an arduous affair decided over 38 games but this match brought two telling moments that are destined to have an enormous impact on the title race. First, a fingertip save from Joe Hart to deny Steven Naismith at the start of the second half and then, two minutes later, a simple finish for Edin Dzeko to give the visitors an insurmountable 3-1 lead. In those two moments the title race turned back in Manchester City's favour; in those two moments Steven Gerrard's hopes of a reprieve slipped away. It is unlikely that the 23rd change in the lead at the top of the Premier League will be the last - Liverpool only need a point against Crystal Palace to return to the summit - but it is certainly the most pivotal. It is now City's title to lose and, should they fail to beat Aston Villa and West Ham at the Etihad in the final week, it will have been lost in some style.

A team of City's quality cannot be allowed too many chances in a game of catch-up, with Gerrard's mistake affording Manuel Pellegrini one last shot at redemption. City blew it against Liverpool and blew it against Sunderland, but the strength of their squad - so important in maintaining a convincing challenge - was underlined by David Silva's introduction with 15 minutes remaining against Everton. When Liverpool desperately required a goal at home to Chelsea, Brendan Rodgers was forced to turn to Iago Aspas, whose corner kick will never be forgotten.

Although they were given a significant leg-up by Chelsea's victory at Anfield, City deserve credit for regaining their composure in the last two matches as they eased to victory over Crystal Palace and survived a difficult test at Everton. They had won only once in their last 15 visits to Goodison but appeared unperturbed by that statistic on Saturday evening. It was a professional performance reminiscent of the crucial 2-0 win at Newcastle in May 2012 on the way to securing their first championship in 44 years. A second in three seasons, again claimed on goal difference, is almost certain to follow.

Despite that fact, it should be noted that City have lost something since their 1-0 defeat to Chelsea in February, and it seems rather incongruous that their last 12 games have yielded seven points fewer than the 12 that preceded that loss. City have also scored 12 goals fewer over that period as a sticky patch in the Premier League was exacerbated by defeats to Barcelona in the Champions League and Wigan in the FA Cup. This has not been a surge to the title by any stretch.

But although City's momentum has stalled, Pellegrini can point to one key area in which he has proved his credentials. As the manager said on Friday, the improvement in City's away form has been an influential aspect of their title challenge, emphasised by the fight-back victory over Everton. "It is very important to be fighting until the end because we started the season playing very badly away. We won just four points from the first 18," said Pellegrini. "But, from that moment on, we've been one of the best away teams. It is important to continue playing that way."

Indeed, while Liverpool needed only a point against Chelsea to keep the title race in their favour - something they appeared to forget at Anfield last week - City required all three away to Everton in a task that became significantly tougher when Ross Barkley curled in a sublime opening goal. That did little to knock City's confidence, though, and they recovered to assert their authority even after Sergio Aguero was forced off with an injury he sustained when drilling in the equaliser. Thanks to Dzeko's brace, the visitors picked up their ninth win on the road in 13 matches - remarkable consistency that has allowed them to put one hand on the trophy.

It is not over yet, of course, and Liverpool cannot allow themselves to consider for a second that they have thrown it away. Win against Palace on Monday and the pressure remains on City not to mess it up at home to Villa on Wednesday night. The manner of City's unforgettable 3-2 victory over QPR on the final day in 2012 should give the Reds encouragement that anything can happen in the final week, while Sunderland's recent feats the Etihad and Stamford Bridge provide another timely ounce of hope.

City have earned the right to throw it away in the final two games, but Liverpool can help them to do that by maintaining their momentum. Nothing is won yet, but there is still everything to lose.

Matt Stanger - he's on the Twitter.

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