Leci: Down to the Wire

ESPNSTAR presenter Andrew Leci previews a dramatic end to the Barclays Premier League season where everything is still very much up for grabs.

Andrew Leci

By Andrew Leci

The title going down to the last game of the season has not been unusual in the Barclays Premier League.

This time round however, the tension is heightened by the immensity of the rivalry between the two teams in contention.

There has been talk over the last few years about the shifting balance of power in Manchester, and should City go on to secure their first league title since 1968, the effect will be positively seismic.

Sure, they've spent plenty of money, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee success - just ask Claudio Ranieri - and the fact that Manchester City have managed not only to put together a team good enough to wrest United's crown from them, but have put in the levels of performance when required over the course of a long campaign, suggests that the rivalry (always intense, not always competitive) may endure for quite a while.

On paper, Manchester City have the easier game on Sunday.

QPR have been struggling for most of the season; they've been nigh on woeful on the road (3 wins, 13 defeats) and on any given day wouldn't expect anything from a match at The Etihad Stadium - a place where only Sunderland have emerged with so much as a point this season.

Interestingly, and somewhat depressingly for QPR fans, Manchester City haven't been beaten at home in the league since December 2010.

It's a daunting prospect for Mark Hughes' men, who need a point to ensure their Premiership survival.

Manchester United have to travel to Sunderland, and must assume that City get the job done against QPR.

United have a goal difference of 8 to make up, and it's almost impossible to see Martin O'Neill's men rolling over in quite such spectacular fashion. I could say that ‘stranger things have happened in football', but I don't think they have.

As far as the title is concerned then, it's there for the taking as far as City are concerned - they just need to hold their nerve and seal the deal. But what of the race for UEFA Champions League qualification? It must be seen as Sunday's most intriguing sub-plot.

Two points separate Arsenal in 3rd and Newcastle United in the 5th, with Tottenham Hotspur the tasty sandwich filling.

Any of the three teams can finish 3rd, 4th or 5th, and all of them will be aware that 4th might not be good enough for a place in the UCL next season, should Chelsea beat Bayern Munich on May the 19th.

I can't help wondering if Roy Hodgson will try to do Harry Redknapp a favour by making sure his side get something from Arsenal at The Hawthorns - he may feel a tinge of guilt having beaten his ‘good friend' to the post of England manager.

I also can't help wondering how much satisfaction former Spurs manager Martin Jol will derive from getting a result at White Hart Lane that could deprive his erstwhile employers of their glittering prize.

And I'm also prone to speculation on how determined Everton will be to do the business against Newcastle at Goodison Park, and make sure that they finish the season above Liverpool for only the second time in the Premier League era.

‘Season defining' games seem to crop up at various junctures through the course of the campaign, but some of Sunday's fixtures will be absolutely definitive as far as the title, relegation and Champions League spots are concerned.

While players gird their loins and managers sweat on team selection and getting their tactics right, fans around the world will be keeping their tranquilisers handy and preparing for 90 minutes of extraordinary, nerve-jangling tension.

It's the last act in what has been a truly compelling season in the Barclays Premier League. We await the denouement, and may fortune favour the brave.



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