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Matt Maher: Wouldn’t it be fantastic to upset Prem applecart?

Sunday has the potential to be both the most thrilling climax to a Premier League season for a decade and the finest day for West Midlands football for several years.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (right) and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 3, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications..
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola (right) and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Thursday January 3, 2019. See PA story SOCCER Man City. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications..

By quirk of the fixture computer, Villa and Wolves find themselves right at the centre of the action as the title race between Manchester City and Liverpool reaches a conclusion.

Villa go to the Etihad and Wolves to Anfield. Neither will be the focus on a day when most attention will fall, quite understandably, on the two terrific teams who have fought it out at the summit for the past nine months.

Neither will be much fancied to get a positive result. The odds on both doing so are extraordinarily long.

Wouldn’t it be tremendous then, if they somehow did manage to upset the applecart and flip the anticipated narrative on its head? In addition to stunning the country, it would provide a welcome shot in the arm for campaigns which, for differing reasons, have felt a little underwhelming.

You wouldn’t have expected to say that about Wolves just a few weeks ago. When Bruno Lage’s men beat Villa 2-1 at Molineux in early April, they looked well set to push Manchester United and West Ham all the way for a top-six finish.

A return of just two points from six matches since has seen their challenge fizzle out and the wider picture isn’t particularly rosy. Wolves have taken just 17 points from their last 16 Premier League matches and while the standings show they have been the eighth best team across the whole competition till now, it has been some time since they have looked like it.

From a point where Lage looked on course to be in the frame for manager of the season in January, he now finds himself under perhaps the biggest scrutiny since replacing Nuno 12 months ago. To say he faces a big summer feels like a cliché. Such is the importance of every transfer window, the same could be said of managers at countless other clubs. Yet it is rare for seasons to be judged in isolation – just ask Dean Smith – and Lage cannot afford for the downturn to continue into the opening months of next season.

The summer and the start of next season will be of huge significance to Villa and Steven Gerrard too. Making any firm judgement on the 41-year-old feels premature before he has the chance to properly stamp his mark on the playing squad.

Gerrard, of course, will be the subject of attention ahead of Sunday, though the notion he might find added motivation in the chance to help Liverpool win the title borders on insulting a man whose hunger to win is always total, no matter the circumstances or occasion.

It will be the same for his players. Granted, the presence of Jack Grealish on the opposing team adds another layer of interest and ensures there will be no shortage of storylines at the Etihad. Even those Villa supporters who sent the former skipper on his way with good wishes would surely find a little mischievous pleasure in their team helping to stop him claim a first major honour?

But for Villa’s squad the primary incentive will be pride. Of course, they did not expect to be fighting it out at the top this season. Yet it is fair to say they anticipated being a little higher in the table.

The chief reason for being in the bottom half is a lamentable record against the Premier League’s top teams, with just four points taken from 15 matches against the division’s top eight. Sunday, then, offers one final chance to improve the statistic, in the most dramatic way possible.

It is easy to be cynical about the Premier League and much of the time, when considering its prioritising of money over everything else, it is a healthy approach.

Yet in pure sporting terms Sunday is worthy of much of the hype heading its way. Of the 10 scheduled fixtures, only two (Leicester v Southampton and Chelsea v Watford) could be considered genuine dead rubbers.

Everywhere else there is something on the line, whether it be the battle for the top four with Arsenal, who host Everton, hoping Tottenham slip up at Norwich, or West Ham still in with the chance of leapfrogging Manchester United into sixth and securing a return to the Europa League. Then there is the dogfight to avoid the drop which will involve two teams and possibly three depending on the results of last night’s fixtures (owing to the deadlines, this piece was written before).

Nowhere will the attention be greater than at Anfield and the Etihad. Few will give the visiting teams much of a chance and more likely than not, they will turn out to be right.

The enduring beauty of sport, however, is you can never truly know for sure.

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