Even before a ball was kicked in the Champions League semifinals, this year’s competition was already one of the most exhilarating in recent memory. And then this week happened.
Two of the greatest comebacks in the history of the biggest club football competition in the world were somehow squeezed into a 24-hour span of drama that would take some beating till the end of time.
For the two teams that were on the receiving end of the epic turnarounds, it was heartbreak of similar magnitude. For Barcelona, it was lightning striking twice, with the same goalkeeper between the posts, as they conceded a three-goal lead in the second leg to go out of the competition for the second year running.
For Ajax, given the predicted exodus of their budding superstars in the summer, there is a growing feeling that this might be the closest they come to winning the Champions League in the near future – especially given that Barca had been knocked out the previous day.
Even so, it’s time for the victors, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, to bask in the glory as they’ve booked an all-English final to the European Cup, for the second time in the competition’s history, on June 1. The prospect of an all-English Champions League final also sets us up perfectly for today’s Premier League finale.
While they’ve been bulldozing past their European rivals, both the Champions League finalists have simultaneously been engrossed in their domestic challenges. Even though Spurs had initially been a distant part of a title race that fast became two-pronged following the turn of the year, they’ve since been fighting for the top-four spot to ensure that they qualify for the competition they will be contesting the final of.
Despite going completely downhill in the league, given their early lead over Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, and given these clubs’ abject refusal to win sufficient games, Spurs would fulfill their domestic objective today. Barring an eight-goal swing with Arsenal, Tottenham should join Chelsea in the top four come the final whistle today.
However, with all three relegation teams already decided – Huddersfield, Fulham and Cardiff City – and the top four all but settled as well, all the attention would be on the greatest title race in Premier League history.
It was anticipated that Manchester City and Liverpool would take the title down to the wire. What no one could’ve predicted a couple of months ago was that these two sides would do it with winning runs worthy to make either of them the champion of England.
Manchester City with 95 points will travel to 17th-placed Brighton knowing that they would retain their title if they win the final game of the season. Liverpool with 94 points host seventh-placed Wolves knowing that they absolutely need to win their match to have any chance of capitalising on a potential, albeit seemingly improbable, Manchester City slipup
Manchester City with 95 points will travel to 17th-placed Brighton knowing that they would retain their title if they win the final game of the season. Liverpool with 94 points host-seventh placed Wolves knowing that they absolutely need to win their match to have any chance of capitalising on a potential, albeit seemingly improbable, Manchester City slipup. It’s the feeling that Liverpool have experienced for the past couple of months, where they’ve managed to win game after game hoping to profit from Man City dropping points, which the English champions have simply refused to do.
But would the events of this week have any impact on the final day aura for Liverpool. After Champions League heroics, can Liverpool hope for a Premier League miracle?
Unfortunately for Liverpool, the matter has been out of their own hands since their 0-0 draw at Everton on March 3, which allowed Manchester City – who have won all of their matches since the 2-1 defeat at Newcastle on January 30 – to overtake the Anfield club.
And so, while overcoming a 3-0 defeat against the mighty Barcelona was a daunting prospect, the fate was still in Liverpool’s own hands. Today, they need a favour from Brighton, having failed to receive one from Leicester, Burnley, Manchester United, Tottenham, Crystal Palace, Cardiff City, Fulham and Watford – the sides that City have faced since Liverpool’s 0-0 draw against Everton.
Whoever wins the league will be writing a significant page of history. If it’s Manchester City, they would become the first side in a decade to defend the Premier League title, since Manchester United did it in 2009. For Liverpool, it would be a first league title in three decades.
Even so, it’s the team that does not win the league that would go down as the greatest in history to not win the title. The tallies of 94 and 95 points are already the highest for any side to not have won the Premier League, and more than many title winning sides as well.
It’s been an inexplicable week in the Champions League, resulting in an all-English final, which has prompted many to expect the unexpected on Sunday as well. For Manchester City, however, away from all the drama of the Champions League, it’s simply a case of winning one match to win the league. And Pep Guardiola and his side would do their best to ensure there’s as little drama as possible today.