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Soccer

The Premier League Title Race Is Still On

Lukasz Fabianski of West Ham United saves a penalty from Riyad Mahrez of Manchester City during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on May 15, 2022 in London, England
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

When Manchester City roared to a 5–1 victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers mid-week, it felt to me like the Premier League title race was over. An away match against a solid Wolves team seemed like the last likely place for City to drop points and allow Liverpool back into the mix. But in penciling in easy wins for City along the rest of the way, I’d overlooked West Ham, and on Sunday the Hammers proved yet again why all of those who have underestimated them this season have been made to look foolish.

Jarrod Bowen scored two goals to give West Ham an early 2–0 lead, and though the team tried its best to give back the full advantage, the hosts were able to hold off City for a 2–2 draw that, barring a Liverpool collapse against Southampton on Tuesday, will see this wild Premier League race last all the way to the final day of the season.

There was a lot of game played at the London Stadium before that final whistle at 2–2. West Ham is still in play for a spot in the Europa League; the Hammers will need some help to leapfrog Manchester United on the final day, but they did what they had to do to in order to keep pace. Manchester City is as fearsome a foe as there is in the Premier League, but West Ham came out swinging.

Bowen, so often West Ham’s best player this season, was majestic in finishing his two chances. First, he latched on to a wonderful and wonderfully acrobatic through ball from Pablo Fornals, streaking past City’s backline and into a one-on-one with Ederson. Bowen easily rounded the keeper, before slotting home the ball across the goal for a 1–0 lead:

Bowen would go on to double that advantage 21 minutes later, just before halftime. After once again finding himself past the City backline, Bowen strode to the top of the box and fired a shot between Fernandinho’s legs and past Ederson:

A 2–0 halftime lead is as good as a win against most teams, and even against Manchester City on most days: 52 times City has gone down two goals at half, and 51 times they have lost. Nevertheless, determined to rescue at least a point to maintain its slim lead in the title race, City got to work after the break.

Jack Grealish’s first season after his move from Aston Villa has been mostly disappointing, but he came up big against West Ham, hitting a volley into the ground, off of Craig Dawson, and over Lukasz Fabianski just three minutes after halftime:

City’s equalizer also came off of a West Ham player: Off of a free-kick cross from Riyad Mahrez, Hammers defender Vladimir Coufal’s poor attempt at a headed clearance found the corner of his own net. Suddenly, City had a leveled scoreline and still had 20 minutes to snatch what would likely serve as a more or less league-winning three points:

And it looked like City would do just that. In the final minutes of regular time, Dawson brought down Gabriel Jesus in the box for what might’ve been a game- and title-winning penalty. Instead, though, Fabianski read Mahrez’s approach correctly and saved the attempt, keeping the score at 2–2, where it remained:

City now leads the Premier League by only four points. Liverpool will have the chance to cut that to just one point on Tuesday, in a match against Southampton. Should the Pool Boys win there, it’ll set up an almost perfect Championship Sunday.

For Liverpool to complete a domestic treble, after they won yet another penalty shootout cup final against Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup final, the Reds will need to beat Wolves on the final day and then hope that Aston Villa takes points off Manchester City, in Manchester. The manager tasked with orchestrating Man City’s downfall on the final day? None other than Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. Even without anything concrete to play for themselves, Gerrard and the Villans will certainly delight in their chance to play spoilers.

City’s task is as clear as it was in the last close Premier League title race, in 2018–19: beat a lower-table side and claim glory. Anything less than that would put the advantage back in Liverpool’s hand, provided that Liverpool completes its assignment on Tuesday. After the race appeared to be over with two games remaining for each of the title contenders, this topsy turvy season—one in which both sides looked like surer bets to win the league at various points—will come down to the final day. West Ham did its part to keep the drama bubbling, and now Liverpool’s hopes of a historic quadruple trophy season will clash against Manchester City’s all-powerful domestic dominance. There’s no better, or no more deserving, way for this season to wrap up than that.

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