Statistics, economics, nine months of solid evidence and even just good, old-fashioned common sense points directly to one inescapable outcome at the end of the English Premier League season on Sunday.
Yet none of those forces will carry a shred of weight as Manchester City seeks to complete the championship triumph it seems destined for, and, just as critically, aims to stave off a cataclysmic collapse.
In theory, City should have no trouble in collecting at least a tie and therefore the single point it needs to clinch the title ahead of Liverpool. It has gathered 49 out of 54 available points at its own Etihad Stadium this season and its opponent this weekend, West Ham, lost all of its four games in April.
On the fiscal side of things, City has spent hundreds of millions of its ownership group's Arabian oil money in pursuit of success, so much so that European soccer chiefs have the club as its primary target while implementing new rules to curb overt spending and competitive inequality.
But this is English soccer, which can be painfully predictable during much of the year yet anything but at its very conclusion. The concept of "Any Given Sunday" doesn't really apply here, unless it is the final Sunday.
Past twists that defied belief are fresh enough in the memory that City did not launch into the celebrations that might have been expected following its 4-0 thumping of Aston Villa on Wednesday, even though the result meant it would take an extraordinary collapse to relinquish the title.
Because … it remembers.
Just two years back, City was poised to claim its first title in 44 years, needing only to beat lowly Queens Park Rangers at home on the final afternoon. However, even with QPR reduced to 10 men when the ever-unstable Joey Barton was sent off, City trailed 2-1 after 92 minutes before striking twice in the final moments of injury time to lift the trophy in the most nail-biting fashion possible.
All too often, the race for the Premier League crown doesn't go all the way to the end of the season, a fact that some futurists believe will eventually lead to a U.S.-style postseason playoff. Yet when it does, it is invariably dramatic.
In 1989, Arsenal's Michael Thomas used virtually the last kick of the season to lift his side above Liverpool. Six years later, Blackburn Rovers crumbled on the final day but won its sole title in the Premiership era anyways after Manchester United slipped up at West Ham.
Slipping has been central to the run-in of this extraordinary season, too, with its biggest turning point coming when Steven Gerrard slipped at the worst time in Liverpool's 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on April 27 that blew the race wide open.
Gerrard can laugh about it now, perhaps only because that's a better alternative than crying.
"The biggest message when you sign for this club is you never get too high when you win an award or trophy and you never get too down when one slips away – literally slips away," Gerrard said.
Even with Liverpool having conceded defeat, City knows it can't take anything for granted.
"We have experience from two years ago," Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko said. "Everyone thought we would win against QPR – now we go into the game and hope to win early."
Dzeko is on to something there. Typically, last-game nerves can be settled with an early goal and one would be desperately welcome for City on Sunday. But on the flip side, failure to score quickly can cause nerves to set in and bad luck can strike. Teams then can be saddled with an involuntary freeze that breeds panic and level the playing field in even the most seemingly one-sided matchup.
To steal a cliché, it is why they still play the games. And it is why you still want to watch, even though you think you know what's going to happen.
- Sports & Recreation