Seeing red

By Pete Reilly Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/18 19:48:41

Mixed emotions in race for EPL


Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola reacts during the UEFA Champions League quarterfinal second-leg match against Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday in Manchester, England. Photo: AFP

The emotional roller coaster of the UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur will still be rolling on come Saturday lunchtime when the teams meet again.

Both Blues players and fans will need to shake off their shellshock from the VAR decision to overturn what seemed to be a last-gasp winning goal scored by player of the season candidate Raheem Sterling. It was the young England international that led the celebrations after netting what would have been his hat trick on the night and the decisive goal between nine over two legs.

The mixture of joy and relief that was written all over his face as he ran to the home fans quickly turned to despair and the sober realization that Pep Guardiola's City side would not reach the semifinals. Gone are the dreams of the quadruple that the manager was always quick to downplay and they need to concentrate on adding another trophy to the League Cup that they won in March.

Pressure

They host Spurs in the Premier League on Saturday knowing exactly what they need in order to do that: take all three points.

Nothing less will do as they look to retain the title they cantered to last season. They enter the weekend with Liverpool sat at the top of the table but the Reds have played a game more. The Anfield side's two-point cushion will be eradicated with victory over Spurs at the Etihad, City would go back to the top of the tree and lead by a point. That would put the pressure back on Jurgen Klopp's side before they travel to play Cardiff City on Sunday afternoon.

The title rivals have been neck and neck all season to such an extent that it will be a shame that one of them inevitably has to fall short. It could be that Liverpool win all of their remaining games and finish with 97 points but that will still not prove enough to win their first title for 30 years.

Such a points haul would have won the Premier League in every single season bar the last when City became the first team to reach the 100-point mark. That Guardiola's team also had the largest winning margin in Premier League history last season, finishing 18 points ahead of Jose Mourinho's Manchester United, showing just how far Liverpool have come to run them so close.

It might not come to the final game, though. This could be the decisive week in the race for the title and it might have nothing to do with Liverpool's trip to South Wales, a game against the favorites for the final relegation spot and one that they are heavily tipped to win.

Instead it is in Manchester where the destination of the title could be decided. The champions face two of the teams battling to finish in the top four in four days. Not only do they face an ­emotional reunion with the team that knocked them out of the Champions League - a game that they could well lose - but they then travel across town to face city rivals Manchester United in the derby.

When Guardiola takes his side to Old Trafford on Wednesday night, it is a game that is sure to confuse loyalties. The United fans will want the team to beat City as they hardwired to do so, but victory would in turn hand the title advantage to the only team that they might hate more. 

No matter what happens in the game against Spurs, the derby is City's game in hand and crucial to their hopes of retaining the title. The cruel truth is that while victory in the derby would be a bright spot in a season that has had far too few for their liking, it also risks putting an end to the stick with which they have so long beaten Liverpool - the club's 29-year wait for the league title.  

Dilemma

It was unthinkable for many years that Manchester City would win the Premier League but they have quickly established themselves among the annual challengers. Liverpool on the other hand were perennially in the title conversation but they have only come close a handful of times in the Premier League era.

That wait for a domestic title has made Liverpool's Champions League successes easier for Manchester United fans to stomach. The idea of England's most successful team in the Champions League adding another trophy to their five is not exactly welcomed in the red half of Manchester but it would be tolerated so long as they do not win the league.

Nowadays it is Manchester City that United fans want to fail in Europe - and thanking Spurs for doing just that this season - while counterintuitively wanting to see them succeed in the league if the alternative is Liverpool lifting the Premier League trophy. Petty perhaps but that is football fandom. Emotional rather than rational, impossible to justify while at the same time making total sense to those involved.

Meanwhile, Liverpool fans will have their own dilemma to deal with. Do they stick to the script and hope for United to lose, or do they cheer on their long-standing enemies because Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side can help them out by beating title rivals City? It's confusing.

Whatever the result, it is the worst possible situation for a Manchester United fan. Not only are the team struggling to replicate their recent past and challenge for the title but the trophy is guaranteed to end up in the cabinet of one of the two teams whose success rankles most.

What's even worse for those involved at Old Trafford is that under Guardiola and Klopp both rival clubs look like they will be at the top of the table next season too. It's only a matter of time before City win a first Champions League and Liverpool win a 19th league title. That will be emotional for all sides.

Posted in: SOCCER

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