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Aston Villa are not the easiest opponents on the final day, but Pep Guardiola’s side should emerge triumphant.
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A win for Manchester City against West Ham United last weekend would have all but ended the Premier League title race. A defeat would have thrown the door open to Liverpool, who could have ended the campaign in first place on goal difference even if City went on to win their final match. In the end the encounter at the London Stadium finished 2-2, leaving Pep Guardiola’s side in pole position but still needing to complete the job this weekend.
Their task is simple, in terms of understanding if not necessarily execution: beat Aston Villa and Manchester City will be crowned champions of England for the fourth time in five years.
Guardiola was visibly happy with this scenario in his press conference after the West Ham game last time out. “I can assure you something,” he said. “In one week our stadium will be so loud and we will give them all our lives, and they will give us all their lives, for 95 minutes. It’s an incredible privilege to win one game at home to be champion.”
City have done well to hold off a relentless Liverpool side of late. On January 2, after the Reds drew 2-2 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, City were 11 points clear of Jurgen Klopp’ side, who had played one game fewer. At that stage it looked as if the champions would win the league at a canter, just as they did last term. Instead, Liverpool went on a remarkable run which left them just one point adrift of top spot with eight games remaining.
The momentum at that point was with Liverpool, but City have matched their record since then to retain a one-point advantage going into the final weekend. Liverpool should beat Wolves at Anfield, so only a win will do for City.
Aston Villa are potentially tricky opponents for City. Guardiola’s opposite number, Steven Gerrard, will certainly not be short of motivation. The Liverpool legend never won the league during his time at Anfield as a player, but he has the chance to contribute to a title triumph for the Reds this weekend. The Villa players might not have the same connection but they would no doubt relish the chance to play the role of party poopers at the Etihad Stadium.
Under its current owners Villa are an ambitious club. They have made it clear that they expect to challenge for continental competition sooner rather than later, and they will probably begin next season with the target of qualifying for the Europa League.
If Villa are to realize that ambition, they will need to become more consistent in Gerrard’s first full season at the helm. Their form in recent months has been much more hit and miss than their manager would have liked. Villa have gone on three-match winning runs and four-game losing streaks. When they are playing well, they look like an excellent side. When things go against them, they can look distinctly average. Liverpool will hope the first version turns up this weekend.
John Stones, Ruben Dias and Kyle Walker all look set to miss out through injury on Sunday, leaving City with a patched-up defense once more. Guardiola opted for Fernandinho and Aymeric Laporte at center-back last time out; the Brazilian struggled with the pace and physicality of West Ham striker Michail Antonio, though, so the City boss could be tempted to play Nathan Ake instead.
Villa frontmen Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins will no doubt fancy their chances against a makeshift City backline. Gerrard’s side certainly possess ample firepower in the final third, with Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho both capable of chipping in with goals too (although only one of the attacking midfielders is likely to start). Guardiola will note with caution that Villa have found the back of the net in each of their last five Premier League outings.
But while they may do so again here, City will surely prove too strong. Only Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur have beaten the home team at the Etihad this term. City will protect their defense by controlling the ball, while their recent form in front of goal is ominous: across their last three matches, City have averaged a goal every 24.5 minutes. Back a home win and both teams to score.
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|Manchester City vs Aston Villa Information|
|Teams||Manchester City vs Aston Villa|
|Location||Carrow Road, Norwich, England|
|Time||Sunday, 22 May 2022, 11.00 AM EDT|
|How to watch||USA Network|
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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