This week in: English Football – City Champions of England, Chelsea of Europe Next?

Turns out money CAN buy you love…

On a crazy final day of the Premiership season , Manchester City secured their first league championship since 1968, thanks to two goals in stoppage time in their game against Queens Park Rangers.  It was perhaps the only way a club like City – whose own fans expect them to mess up at some point – could have secured the title.  At the 90 minute mark, their rivals United looked set to win their 20th English league title, but strikes from Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero in injury time brought the trophy to the Etihad Stadium – leaving Sir Alex Ferguson, his players and their fans in a state of shock up at the Stadium of Light.

Many have since compared the turnaround to United’s own stoppage time recovery in the Champions League final back in 1999, but in that instance both they and Bayern München were playing for the same prize.  This time around, City were facing a QPR side who were playing for their own survival in the Premier League.  While the home side were doing the large majority of the attacking, Rangers managed to absorb that pressure and even took the lead with 10 men, a situation they were put in by their captain, Joey Barton, who elbowed Carlos Tevez to earn a red card, then kicked Aguero and attempted to headbutt Kompany on his way off the pitch.  Thirteen years ago in Barcelona, Bayern were the dominant team and United were lucky to be just a single goal behind by the end of the 90 minutes – in contrast, City on Sunday had 35 shots to QPR’s 3, as well as 62% of the possession.  Despite the defeat, Queens Park Rangers avoided relegation as Bolton were held to a 2-2 draw by Stoke at the Britannia Stadium.  A controversial late penalty – awarded by Chris Foy, who was also the referee for Tottenham’s defeat in the same ground earlier this season, with many decisions going the home team’s way – condemned Wanderers to Championship football starting in August, after more than a decade in the top flight.

Back at the Etihad Stadium, the mega-rich club may only have got into the position they are in thanks to a large expenditure in the transfer market that has propelled them above their piers…but enough about QPR.  City of course have spent a fortune to secure their first title in the Premiership era, but there was a game from their dark days of lower league football that this match did mirror.  A dozen years ago, Gillingham had a 2-0 lead over them going into injury time in the playoff final to gain promotion out of the third tier of the English Leagues.  Just like on Sunday, the Blue half of Manchester were able to strike twice in the additional minutes before the final whistle, and went on to claim their spot in the old Division 2 (at the time confusingly called Division 1) via a penalty shootout.  If the two sides now meet in a cup tie, Gillingham fans are sure to remind their City counterparts that many had left early that day with a chant of “Two Nil and you all went home”.  Unbelievably, some supporters headed to the exits before the final whistle last weekend as well.  Absolute muppets – but I guess they will always remember that day they managed to beat the traffic.

Arsenal were handed three goals by errors from – former Tottenham Keeper – Martin Fulop in their match against West Brom on Sunday – enough to give them a 3-2 win and secure for them third place and Champions League football again next term.  While Spurs also won to end the season in fourth place, they must now wait for Saturday’s final between Chelsea and Bayern München to determine which European competition they will be competing in next season – if Chelsea win, Tottenham will be relegated to the Europa League.  My Facebook timeline has been filled with Arsenal fans stating their support for the London club in this weekend’s game, which is something of a surprise.  Admittedly, should Roberto DiMatteo lead his team to a win over Bayern, the Gunners will get to see their biggest rivals miss out on a place in the Champions League, but they would also see the club who are their second biggest local enemy actually win the competition, not to mention have their own side forced to play a qualifying round in August.  Had Spurs somehow managed to end up third, I still would have been rooting for Bayern this weekend, now they will be getting huge amount of support from the Tottenham faithful.

With the game being played in Munich, and the home side having the duel threats of Ribery and Robben to throw at Chelsea, Bayern are clear favourites to win the trophy.  But they are susceptible to teams who counterattack well – as last weekend’s 5-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund proved in the German Cup final – and they will be wary of the English side who knocked out Napoli and Barcelona in previous rounds with the odds stacked against them.  There is bad news and good news for Chelsea in terms of player availability – both Ivanovic and Ramires miss out through suspension; but so too does John Terry.  

There is another fixture on Saturday which may actually be a more valuable game to the winner than even the prize of lifting the Champions League trophy.  West Ham United and Blackpool meet in the Championship playoff final at 3pm (UK time) at Wembley stadium, the victor will return to the Premiership after just a season away from the top flight.  I will be in a minority of Tottenham fans with this opinion, but I hope that West Ham gain promotion, despite them being a rival of ours and their supporters having a particular animosity towards Spurs.  Derby games are always exciting and two games against the Irons is a more enticing prospect than home and away matches against Blackpool – not to mention that the six points we will get from them always comes in useful.

Liverpool legend, Kenny Dalglish, was sacked by the club on Wednesday after another disappointing season that saw them end up in 8th place, below their rivals Everton, and closer in points to the relegation zone than the top four.  Dalglish did bring the Reds a trophy this year in the form of the Carling Cup, but Liverpool’s owners, Fenway Sports Group, demand Champions League qualification and the riches that brings.  Wigan’s Roberto Martinez is on their shortlist to replace the Scotsman, though they have stated that outgoing Barcelona boss, Pep Guardiola, is their ideal target.

With another Premiership season in the books – time to look back at home my pre-season prediction turned out, as well as the final total of the weekly results forecasts.  This was how I though the table was going to finish – the team’s actual finishes in brackets after, plus a few comments.

1. Manchester United (2) – a single goal away from being correct, let’s not forget they ended on the same number of points as City

2. Manchester City (1) – perhaps the first of many titles, no doubt there will be more expenditure this summer to make them competitive in Europe as well.

3. Arsenal (3) – how I wish I had been 1 place wrong…St. Totteringham’s Day 2012 was May 13th.

4. Liverpool (8) – overrated how well Dalglish would do – perhaps because my Mother-in-Law is such a huge fan of his.

5. Chelsea (6) – thought AVB would be gone by Christmas, he lasted a little longer – perhaps too long.

6. Tottenham (4) – but if Chelsea win on Saturday, might as well have been 6th.

7. Everton (7) – David Moyes does it again with no money to spend – incredible.

8. Stoke (14) – their home form was much worse than usual this time around, but they have still consolidated their place in the top flight.

9. Sunderland (13) – could have been much lower if Martin O’Neill’s arrival had not injected them with three months of magic.

10. Fulham (9) – congratulations Martin Jol and thanks for not beating Spurs on Sunday.

11. Bolton (18) – ouch, way off.

12. Newcastle (5) – ahem, but nobody saw them coming this year.

13. Aston Villa (16) – another side who sacked their manager this week, but Alex McLeish was too boring even to talk about being canned.

14. West Brom (10) – great job from Roy Hodgson, who gets to be abused by the press during his tenure as England manager for his reward.

15. QPR (17) – thought it would be Neil Warnock’s nous that would keep them up, ended up being Stoke who did it.

16. Wolves (20) – if there was any mathematical way they could have been lower, they would have been.

17. Norwich City (12) – all three sides that came up from the Championship last year avoided relegation, but Norwich’s performance was perhaps the most impressive as two seasons ago they were in League One before securing back-to-back promotions.

18. Wigan (17) – I did not see how they could stay up again, but they did thanks to Roberto Martinez.  If they lose him, they may well also lose their status as the only side never to have been relegated from the top flight.

19. Blackburn (19) – Steve Kean is sure to be the next manager to lose his job.

20. Swansea City (11) – completely underestimated the Welsh outfit.  They were never anywhere near the drop zone and played entertaining, attacking football all season long.

Weekly Predictions: Last week 5-3 (inexplicably missed the Sunderland vs Manchester United game altogether and did not predict the Wigan vs Wolves match…it’s been a long season!  End Score: 160-186

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