There are only two game weeks left in the Premier League season, which means there are only two opportunities remaining for clubs to end Manchester City’s winning run and prevent them from retaining their title.
Brighton may well have secured their Premier League safety beyond the final day meeting, which means Leicester City may well present the toughest task for the reigning champions.
It’s not great news for fans of second-placed Liverpool, but there is one thing they can cling on to: the power of a former player to haunt their old club. They’ll just have to hope it’s former Man City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel – rather than former Leicester playmaker Riyad Mahrez – who does the haunting. At least the Dane has the spookier name.
Schmeichel played just 10 times for City, the last of them in a UEFA Cup defeat to Racing Santander in 2008, but he wouldn’t be the first player to take to the field against a former employer and ruin their day.
City have been on the other side of this, of course, when Denis Law invented the muted celebration .
The Scottish striker had played more than 400 games for United, winning the European Cup with them in 1968, but he would finish his career with a second spell at City, putting the final nail in his former club’s top flight coffin.
United had finished just a few places above the drop in Law’s final season, 1972-93, and struggled without his goals in the following campaign. They needed to win at home to City in the penultimate game to have any chance of survival, but Law’s backheel ended up being the only goal of the game.
As it happened, even a victory wouldn’t have been enough, but Law didn’t know that at the time, and his apparent distress at potentially relegating his former club has lived long in the memory.
With all the discussion of Carlos Tevez’s role in Sheffield United’s relegation from the Premier League in 2007, it’s easy to forget the other, less sexy but no less painful narrative.
David Unsworth was a semi-regular for the Blades in their promotion season, scoring on his debut and playing 34 times as Neil Warnock’s side climbed back into the Premier League.
However, after a few run-outs at the start of the season, including a penalty miss in a goalless draw with Blackburn, Warnock decided the veteran could leave and sent him to Paul Jewell’s Wigan Athletic on a free in January.
Moved into the centre of defence by Jewell, Unsworth didn’t help matters at first, with the Latics conceding nine goals in his first three starts (all defeats). Indeed, he played just 10 times for the club and scored just once.
However, that one goal – a penalty after Phil Jagielka handled in the box around the same time that Tevez was scoring for West Ham up the road in Manchester – was the goal that sent Sheffield United down.
A player doesn’t even need to have left permanently to haunt their club, as plenty of loanees have shown in the past. Lomana LuaLua scored a late Premier League equaliser for loan club Portsmouth against his employers Newcastle United in 2004, while Chelsea’s Champions League exit in 2014 came at the hands of an Atlético Madrid side with on-loan Blues goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois behind its miserly back four.
However, perhaps the best example comes from a player who temporarily left the Spanish capital.
Fernando Morientes had fallen out of favour at Real Madrid by the summer of 2003, with an underwhelming season in front of goal not helping the Spaniard’s cause. He was sent on loan to Monaco, with few giving the move a second thought.
The Ligue 1 side had finished dead last in their group the last time they’d played Champions League football three seasons prior, so the prospect of Monaco and Real Madrid meeting in any meaningful context seemed like a long-shot.
Meet they did, though, in the quarter-finals. Four goals in 30 second-half minutes seemed to have ensured the Spanish side’s progress despite a surprise Sébastien Squillaci effort at the Bernabéu, but Morientes popped up with a late consolation to ensure there were only two goals in it going into the second leg at Stade Louis II. Still, when Morientes’ former strike partner Raúl struck early to make it 5-2 on aggregate, that was meant to be that.
The loanee, however, had a point to prove and the bit between his teeth. Ludovic Giuly equalised on the night on the stroke of half-time, volleying home from Morientes’ header, before Morientes himself leapt above the Madrid defence to loop a header into Iker Casillas’ net.
Suddenly Monaco only needed one more, and Giuly got it with 24 minutes remaining.
Morientes was loaned out again the following season, moving to Liverpool in January, but Real Madrid ensured he was cup-tied first. You can never be too careful.