If the Premier League title race wasn't over six weeks ago when Manchester City failed to beat Chelsea, it surely is now, after Manchester City lost 0-1 to relegation-threatened Burnley.
Besides a controversial non-penalty call (we'll get there in a moment), this wasn't one of those "Burnley escaped with the points by the skin of their teeth" games either. The first 45 was a desultory affair, with neither side really gaining a hold of the game. Burnley began brighter, with Danny Ings frustrating Martin Demichelis, but to no real effect. As the half wore on City's superior midfield gained control—they had 70% of possession in the half—and enjoyed a ten minute threatening spell, but Burnley's defense was mostly able to snuff out the danger before City could get shots off.
In the 60th minute Ings once again pantsed Demichelis, this time forcing a foul and yellow card in a dangerous position. Here's what resulted for Burnley's George Boyd:
With thirty minutes left to play, City still had plenty of time to find two goals. Manuel Pellegrini immediately brought on Wilfried Bony for Edin Dzeko, then Stevan Jovetic for David Silva ten minutes later, and finally Frank Lampard for Yaya Toure ten minutes after that. But despite riffling through the entire attacking deck, it was just more of the same for City. Burnley very rarely pressured the ball outside their final third, packing the box and forcing City to go wide and lob in crosses, or take speculative 25-yard shots. As usual Sergio Aguero looked to be City's most threatening player, but rarely was City able to penetrate Burnley's defense with a killer pass or dribble.
Just after the fourth official announced four minutes of stoppage time, when it looked like Burnley was going to do it, disaster almost struck:
That ... sure looks like a penalty to me, but I was not the referee today, Andre Marriner was. It would be City's final good chance. But even if Marriner had called the penalty, City still would've been in trouble. Against a team near the bottom of the table, they needed to be winning the full three points, not flailing around trying to rescue a solitary one. Since that draw against Chelsea, City has taken only 10 of 18 possible points. They remain five behind Chelsea, who have two games in hand and got themselves knocked out of the Champions League during the week, freeing them up to concentrate fully on winning the Premier League.
What has really opened up with the result of this game is not the title race, but the one to avoid relegation. After QPR lost to Crystal Palace and Sunderland embarrassed by Aston Villa, here's what the bottom of the table looks like:
Leicester City seems certain to go down and QPR is in big trouble, but what about that third relegation spot? Could we conceivably see Everton or Aston Villa—two of the seven clubs that haven't been relegated since the advent of the Premier League in 1992—go down? This is what makes the table structure so exciting: the title race may be over, but the races for Champions League spots and to avoid relegation are just heating up.
Photo via Alex Livesey/Getty