LONDON (Reuters) - Only the most preposterous turnaround can spare Swansea City from relegation on the final Sunday of the Premier League season but if any team can help fashion this mission improbable, it is Pep Guardiola’s dazzling Manchester City.
While Liverpool and Chelsea contend for the one remaining Champions League spot, Swansea fans are steeling themselves for the most deflating of afternoons at the other end of the table.
For only if the Welsh outfit can beat already-relegated Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium and champions City thrash Southampton at St Mary’s to effect a 10-goal swing will the Saints tumble out of the top flight instead of the Swans.
It remains highly unlikely but because rampant City are seeking to underline their record-shredding campaign with a landmark century of points, few Southampton or Swansea fans can quite convince themselves it is over yet.
“We have to be careful. If there is one team in this league who have the capability of scoring a lot of goals, it’s Man City,” warned Southampton manager Mark Hughes.
Hughes should know. Managing Stoke earlier this season, he saw City rain in seven goals — one of 14 times Guardiola’s side have scored four or more in all competitions this term.
Getting the three points on Sunday to finish with exactly 100 clearly means a good deal to the Spaniard, who noted after City’s 3-1 steamrollering of Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday that it would “finish this almost perfect season”.
Guardiola talked again of “trying to write a new page” in English football to emulate the Liverpool side of the late 1970s and 1980s and Manchester United in the 1990s.
“To be the best, to be alongside those teams, we have to win more,” he added. “But (this season) we’ve done better than the others, we cannot deny.”
Indeed, a win at Southampton would make City’s league season, statistically at least, the finest-ever in the English top-flight.
Bob Paisley’s 1978-79 Liverpool side would have ended up with 98 if three points, rather than two, for a win had been employed then. Yet that season was over 42 games not 38 so, by any yardstick, City have been truly exceptional.
Swansea’s manager Carlos Carvalhal can only hopes the champions have one more exceptional 90 minutes in them.
“Well, at this moment we’re not relegated,” he shrugged.
“We can’t depend on ourselves and we don’t like that. We must win the game and hope for a miracle to happen.”
The “miracle” would not be Man City running riot, it would be Swansea, without a league goal in over six and a quarter hours, actually rousing themselves to hammer Stoke.
The good news for Carvalhal is that the Potters certainly look the most accommodating opposition after a week in which their owners Peter and John Coates admitted the club needed a major overhaul after losing some of its “core values”.
In the battle to seal the final top-four spot alongside City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, it’s advantage Liverpool, who need just a point at home to Brighton to foil Chelsea.
The only way the Londoners can nick the fourth spot is by winning at Newcastle United and hope Liverpool, perhaps distracted by the upcoming Champions League final, lose their first league game at Anfield all season.
For the best final day party look no further than Huddersfield Town, where fans will be celebrating their great escape after back-to-back draws at Manchester City and Chelsea salvaged their top-flight place.
Now safe, Dave Wagner’s men will be looking to send Arsene Wenger off into the Premier League sunset without the farewell win his 22 years at Arsenal surely demand.
Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Nick Mulvenney