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Premier Snakes and Ladders – Week 38

Judgement Day. The suspense surrounding Sunday was ratcheted up even further with simultaneous kick-offs at 3pm. Cardiff and Fulham were already relegated and all the top four clubs had qualified for Champions league football before the deciding afternoon. But there was still much to play for, including the title. And four matches in particular proved critical.

Eighteenth place Norwich’s slim chances of survival depended on their encounter with Arsenal but also West Brom’s match against Stoke, more later on the relegation battle. But not surprisingly, most media attention focused on the clash for the title. Approaching Sunday, Liverpool stood two points and thirteen goals behind Manchester City. Only a win for Liverpool and a City loss would end the KOP’s twenty-four year drought.

From a Manchester City perspective, in many respects it was the reverse of their dramatic title win in 2012. City required two goals in extra time to surmount QPR and snatch the title from their bitter Manchester rivals. However Liverpool’s once triumphant hopes had been slowly eroded ever since that deciding defeat to Chelsea in late April.

Liverpool did have allies in West Ham’s Sam Allardyce and Kevin Nolan. Beforehand, both captain and manager seemed determined to do Liverpool a favour and at least give a performance against the Champions elect. Yet after the season we have had, for once Sunday played out according to plan.

1st Manchester City #CHAMPIONS

All the omens were on City’s side before Sunday. In three games against West Ham this season, City already notched up twelve goals. While their 154 goals in all competitions, before Sunday, was a record in the modern era. Indeed, they finished the season only a goal shy of Chelsea’s record Premier League haul.

In fairness to West Ham they showed a degree of intent. At every opportunity the City box was bombarded with long balls via Carroll however City were unmoved and dominated possession throughout. Their confidence was strengthened further on the twentieth minute when news filtered through from Anfield that Skrtel scored an own goal.

It went from good to great only nineteen minutes later when Nasri struck and Kompany added a second after the break. Liverpool showed immense pride to bring the game back to 2-1. But it would have no impact on the title. City closed the game out to maintain their two point advantage and reclaim the title.

The only cloud now in City’s clear blue sky is the potential impact of the recent Financial Fair Play ruling. This could potentially amount to a £50 million fine and even restrictions on their Champions league squad. But if he hasn’t been spectacular this year. Pellegrini has at least shown he has the temperament to withstand the customary controversies associated with a club like City.

It’s a frightening thought. With stable leadership like this and with the resources at hand, City could usher in a period of dominance. Maybe two titles in three years will just be the start but Liverpool will be stronger after the experience of this season. And no doubt Chelsea will acquire that world class striker in the summer. Or maybe two.

Even Arsenal might manage to sustain their challenge for longer next season while a Van Gaal United side will be a different force altogether. It has been a season of transition for many top clubs and for neutrals it has probably been more entertaining for that. A classic title year perhaps, without that classic team. But with potentially four or even five genuine title contenders, next season might offer us so much more.

So with City crowned champions, the lesser matter of Europa League football was also up for grabs on Sunday. A win for Manchester United against Southampton coupled with a Tottenham defeat to Villa, could still see United sneak into sixth place and the Europa League on goal difference. Whether United wanted a Europa league position after all is open to debate.

And in the end, it proved hypothetical. Tottenham’s 3-0 win over Villa and United’s limp draw with Southampton made this the first season in the Premier League era that United failed to qualify for Europe. Instead Tottenham will line out alongside Everton in the Europa League next season.

Further down, the midtable does not attract much attention at this stage of a season. But with each position accounting for an extra £1.2 million in prize money; financially speaking, the main motivator of a football club today anyway, there was something to play for.

But other than Stoke’s capture of ninth place at Newcastle’s expense, movement was minimal. Ninth place for Stoke is their highest finish in the league and completes a fine first season for Hughes. Maybe we should not be surprised with so many clubs simply satisfied to have avoided relegation. Only Swansea made a move past West Ham into 12th place. Indeed before Sunday’s final fixtures, there was still a one-way ticket to relegation up for grabs.

Wednesday night’s action reduced the relegation candidates down to two. Sunderland’s 2-0 win over West Brom finally pulled the Black Cats clear of relegation. After the season they have had, constantly in or threatened by the relegation zone, it’s amazing that Sunderland finished in a very comfortable 14th place – what was all the fuss about!

But in saving their skins on Wednesday, Sunderland left only the Baggies vulnerable to Norwich’s advances, eighteenth place and desperate. Norwich stood three points adrift and required a West Brom loss to Stoke and an unlikely Canaries victory over Arsenal. But even a West Brom defeat would not account for Norwich’s goal deficit of seventeen. It looked unlikely, to say the very least.

18th Norwich #RELEGATED

Belief in a higher power may have grown dramatically amongst Canaries fans in the build up to Sunday’s action. But the much prayed for miracle was nowhere to be seen. Tellingly, Neil Adam’s decision to start with Elmander alone up front said a lot about his own levels of faith in their resurrection.

And if their fate wasn’t sealed before this encounter, the Canaries were certainly doomed by halftime with the game scoreless, even with West Brom losing. The Baggies managed to pull level after the break before Stoke went on to complete the job 2-1. While Norwich eventually capitulated the game and their top flight status 2-0 to Arsenal.

After relegation, it’s hard to resist looking back at the previous summer for early warning signs. But with Norwich there was genuine hope in the summer. They finished 11th last season and then invested heavily in their strike force, for Norwich’s resources anyway. At the very least, supporters could have expected survival. Instead they paid £8.5 million on Ricky Van Wolfsinkel, for a one goal return.

Many Norwich fans have drawn attention to the defeat against West Brom in April as the turning point. It led to Hughton’s demise and also brought home for supporters the very real threat of relegation. We’ll never know what might have been had Hughton been left in charge. But it is another case of mid season managerial change gone wrong.

Adams never halted the decline and the same could be said at Cardiff and Fulham. But that’s a different debate. In the end, it’s Championship football next season for all three and the title for Manchester City. We’ll be back in a few months for more Premier league action. And in the meantime there is the small matter of the World Cup to keep us amused.

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team.