Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man City can't afford misstep

Premiership championship likely, but not a done deal

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By Sunday evening, Manchester City and Atletico Madrid could be champions of England and Spain, respectively.

"Could" being the operative word.

Because while the two sides sit atop their domestic leagues ahead of their weekend appointments they are by no means champions-elect. Neither can afford a slip-up, and both have opponents breathing down their necks anticipating just that.

For starters, the Premier League title race has come down to the final day, and while City is in pole position to finish atop it for a second time in three years they'll likely need to beat West Ham to prevent Liverpool winning a first championship since 1990.

The Reds will be at home to Newcastle on Sunday, but only a win combined with a City loss would hand them a title they seemed to have within their grasp as far back as the second week of April.

It was exactly four weeks ago Liverpool beat the Citizens 3-2 at Anfield, but a 2-0 loss to Chelsea followed by a devastating 3-3 draw at Crystal Palace (they had led 3-0 until the 79th minute) gifted the Sky Blues the driver's seat, and if they wind up second they'll likely struggle to shake the notion that they threw the title away.

City's chances will be bolstered by news striker Sergio Aguero has been passed fit to face the Hammers, although Liverpool will welcome midfielder Jordan Henderson back from suspension.

Over in Spain there are still two match days left on the calendar, although Atletico Madrid could seal La Liga with a win over Malaga combined with a Barcelona loss or draw at Elche.

It's an unlikely scenario.

Fascinatingly, it seems the championship will be decided next weekend, when Atletico and Barca happen to face each other at Camp Nou.

Currently separated by just three points in the standings, the two sides drew 0-0 at Estadio Vicente Calderon back in January, and as head-to-head is the Primera Division tiebreaker the rematch could conceivably be for all the marbles.

When the August Supercopa and recent Champions League quarter-final are taken into account the capital and Catalan outfits have gone up against one another on five occasions this season -- four of them ending in draws and the other, crucially, a 1-0 decision in favour of Atletico.

In the Champions League. At Camp Nou.

So they know they can win the big match in hostile territory, and if they succeed they'll claim their first title since 1996, when manager Diego Simeone represented the side as a tough-tackling midfielder.

The Argentine has been an inspirational figure for Los Colchoneros this term.

His players have taken on his ruthless demeanor, and if the Barcelona showdown becomes a physical battle there will only be one winner.

Conversely, the reigning champions have arrived at this position despite a season of struggles that has so far included a premature Champions League exit, defeat to archrivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey, drama over Lionel Messi's contract, drama over Neymar's place in the team, drama over Gerardo Martino's coaching style and drama over just about everything else.

No doubt the title would be as welcome at the club as it would be surprising, and it will all make for quite the spectacle in a week's time.


Spot kicks

-- Winnipeg's staging of Thursday's women's friendly between Canada and the United States has drawn rave reviews throughout the Canadian soccer community. Investors Group Field has been praised for looking a natural fit for soccer and the attendance figures (28,255) caught national attention. Well done, Winnipeg.

-- Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa could miss Sunday's match against Malaga with a thigh injury. However, he's still in line to face Barcelona next weekend as well as Real Madrid in the Champions League final on May 24.

-- The fitness news isn't quite so good for Real Madrid defender Pepe, whose calf injury could rule him out of the Champions League final.

-- Torino striker Ciro Immobile -- the top goal-scorer in Serie A -- is likely to join Borussia Dortmund this summer. Dortmund will be losing Robert Lewandowski to Bayern Munich, but once again they look about to replace a quality player with quality at a reasonable price.

Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 10, 2014 C6

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