Weblog: The football punter

City can secure title with hard-fought Amex win

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Not since Michael Thomas scored for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989 has the destination of England's top-flight championship changed hands on the final day. And that is likely to remain the case as the Premier League trophy is up for grabs on the last afternoon of the 2018-19 campaign.

Manchester City, 1-8 favourites to retain the title, know they will be champions with a victory over Brighton. Any kind of slip at the Amex offers 13-2 shots Liverpool the chance to overtake the leaders by beating Wolves at Anfield.

It sounds routine enough for Pep Guardiola's side, although City know all about the panic of a final day. They needed virtually every second of the 2011-12 season-defining clash at home to QPR before Sergio Agueroooo delivered the league's most iconic moment since Thomas silenced the Kop.

And nothing should be taken for granted after the week we have had.

Vincent Kompany's rocket against Leicester with his first shot on target from outside the box since 2013 kept City on course to become the first side since Manchester United's threepeaters in 2007-09 to successfully defend the Premier League crown.

But Kompany's heroics were trumped in the Champions League semi-finals.

Fair play to anyone who had the Divock Origi-Liverpool 4-0 scorecast against Barcelona or the predominantly right-footed Lucas Moura mugging Ajax with a second-half left-footed hat-trick to send Spurs to Madrid for a Champions League final against the Reds.

The Europa League final is also an all-English affair with Arsenal and Chelsea set make the less than convenient trip to Baku and back, so how strange it is that City, the Premier League's best side, can't crack Europe despite collecting nearly 200 points in the past two seasons.

Football, eh? It's a funny old game.

However, all matches need to be taken on their own merits and City look excellently equipped to make it 14 consecutive Premier League victories since the start of February by justifying skinny odds to beat Brighton.

The slick City of earlier this season has been replaced by a more pragmatic outlook in recent weeks with ten wins to nil recorded in their last 12 Premier League matches, and a low-scoring success looks the best way to profit from the red-hot match favourites.

A City win to nil is odds-on and the an victory in a match featuring under 4.5 goals has been cut since it was highlighted in Friday's Racing Post.

There may still be enough juice in City to triumph with under 3.5 goals given it has collected in six of their eight away league outings in 2019.

Eight of City's last ten Premier League outings have finished in either 1-0 or 2-0 wins and for all of the swashbuckling stars such as Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling in attack, the way Guardiola's side nullify opponents is often overlooked.

City do it by expertly keeping the ball and have averaged 76 per cent possession in their four matches against Brighton since Albion's promotion to the Premier League, their most recent meeting being a 1-0 City win in last month's FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Chris Hughton's underdogs can play with freedom after securing their top-flight status and they showed signs of that relaxation by attacking Arsenal much more frequently in last week's 1-1 draw at the Emirates than they had on the previous recent foray to London which ended in a 1-0 loss at Tottenham.

Brighton had six shots at Spurs with one on target but at Arsenal it was 11 shots and five on target.

Albion also showed superb commitment to the cause last week that suggests they won't roll over for City.

The harsh reality, however, is a 49-point chasm between the clubs is likely to be borne out and a routine City win makes sense given Brighton have scored just twice from open play in their last nine matches.

The hope for Liverpool supporters comes in the fact that not much that has happened this week has made much sense.

Man City to win & under 3.5 goals

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Liverpool begin their Champions League title defence with a return to the scene of one of the four away defeats they suffered on their way to winning last season’s competition. The Reds were beaten 1-0 at the Stadio San Paolo in the group stage last October and, as the Partenopei have lost three times in their last 19 home fixtures in the competition, their run of six defeats in eight UCL away games is a concern. However, they rarely fail to deliver in the final third, netting in all but four of their last 42 competitive matches.