Three matches that will settle the EPL

At the start, it seemed like Arsenal were going to do it. After that, it looked like Jose Mourinho had rediscovered his special touch. At the end, it felt like Liverpool were in for a victory of improbable romance. And all the time Manchester City were lurking, lurking…

The 2013/14 English Premier League season has been a modern classic. Alex Ferguson handing the reins to a new manager (who was he again?) condemned Manchester United to their annus horribilis, leaving the race at the top wide open and fans of all allegiances contemplating that rarest and most wonderful of things - a genuinely nail-biting last day.

Here’s how it breaks down. If Manchester City win or draw their final game, they are champions. If they lose and Liverpool wins, Steven Gerrard will go to the World Cup with a league winner’s medal rather than an existential crisis. Chelsea have third place wrapped up but can leapfrog the Scousers into second if they win and Liverpool lose.

All of this needs to be considered in the context of a season that has more twists and turns than a Messi dribble, leaving pundits and fans flat on their backsides every weekend wondering what the hell happened. It should be game over in City’s favour, but if this year has taught us one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected.

Manchester City vs West Ham

On paper West Ham have nothing left to play for - safe from relegation on 12th with no chance of finishing higher. But after beating Tottenham in their last game, there is still one reason to want a strong finish - saving manager Sam Alladyce’s job. It’ll be tough though. City are unbeaten in five and, of course, have some history when it comes to winning the title on the final day.

KEY BATTLE – Kevin Nolan vs Vincent Kompany

This game will only make a difference if West Ham win. Midfielder Nolan is their top scorer this year, a poacher around the box who could exploit any lapses in concentration if it gets late and City still haven’t scored. At the back, Kompany will have to be at his most focused to ensure that doesn’t happen. Unless, of course, they’ve already scored six at the other end.

Prediction: 3-1. Sportsbet odds $10.00

Liverpool vs Newcastle   

Alan Pardew’s Newcastle is a club in turmoil, with their win against Cardiff last weekend doing nothing to quell the mutinous mood among fans after a dreadful run of six defeats since March. Crystal Palace exposed Liverpool’s defensive frailties last week, but it’s highly unlikely the Magpies will do the same, and the motivational levels between the two sides could hardly be any different.

KEY BATTLE – Daniel Sturridge vs Fabricio Coloccini

Liverpool only need 13 goals from this game to catch City on goal difference, and with Luis Suarez and Steven Gerrard looking like broken men after the draw with Palace, it may well fall to in-form striker Sturridge to try and find them. It’s a near-impossibility of course, although if any team looks like accommodating a record defeat this season it’s Newcastle. In the unlikely event they put up a spirited resistance they’ll have club captain Coloccini to thank.

Prediction: 4-0. Sportsbet odds $11.00

Cardiff vs Chelsea

Mourinho has been affecting nonchalance about the title race for the past month, but finishing above his former protege Brendan Rodgers will appeal to him – particularly as his side’s style has been criticised in comparison to Liverpool all year. Cardiff, rock bottom of the table and already relegated, have nothing left to play for but pride.

KEY BATTLE – Andre Schurrle vs Steven Caulker

A lack of firepower has cost Chelsea this season, meaning their most potent threat has usually come from midfield. With Oscar injured and Eden Hazard still not fully fit, their best bet may be Schurrle, who went closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock against Norwich last week. Marking the German will be Cardiff’s young skipper Caulker, who has had a good season despite his team’s relegation.

Prediction: 1-2. Sportsbet odds $7.50

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