Manchester City have the luxury of knowing that effectively one win from two will bring them the Premier League title. The goal difference they have worked up in recent games means that even if they lose a game they will not necessarily be knocked off top spot.
Pep Guardiola does not have the luxury of picking from a number of senior defenders for the trip to West Ham. Ruben Dias, John Stones and Kyle Walker are all out for the season while Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho then both went off with injuries in the midweek win over Wolves.
Weighing up the two remaining games, the safe thing to do would be to get what they can from their trip to a West Ham side chasing Europa League football, before concentrating all of their strength for Aston Villa on the final day when all of their players will have had a week of rest. Football rarely works like that though, with Villa giving Liverpool a really tough test this week and the 10-year anniversary of Sergio Aguero’s most famous goal a handy reminder not to rule anything out.
Guardiola is more pragmatic than he is given credit for, and there have been times when he has reserved energy in games for other challenges ahead. However, his sides have not won as much as they have by picking and choosing when to turn it on. This simply isn’t how the manager works — he needs players to know they have to perform to keep the squad so competitive and hungry.
What’s more, Guardiola and the players can smell how close they are to the title. It may still be one game at a time, but one game may be enough to win them the league. Enough to be ‘almost almost almost’ done, as the manager said on Friday.
The benefit of City’s whole philosophy under their manager being so full-blooded is that they will not have to adjust their strategy for West Ham. Once again, they are top of the table because they have won more games than any other team — Liverpool have actually lost fewer but have drawn more — so it will not be alien for the players, however weakened in defence, to push for the three points that would virtually guarantee the title.
It may not work against a David Moyes side that have been excellent for a while now, but City will not go down tamely, and can go again next week when they welcome Villa in the final game. A look at their trophy cabinet would suggest that risks have brought plenty of rewards.