EPL Betting: Season not over til it's over
This season has been a nightmare for the punters to predict.
Richard Aikman analyses what's been a strange Premier League season, and is still predicting a few twists ahead as it winds to a close.
Although at the season's outset most people had the two Manchester clubs pegged as the likeliest candidates for the title, few would have expected such a disappointing league campaign from Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool or such a miraculous renaissance from Newcastle.
In terms of quality this has not been a vintage campaign. No side has taken the league by the scruff of the neck in the way Manchester United did last season, and although the champions were guilty of surrendering an eight-point lead in the run-in, City must be considered the greatest wastrels of the current campaign.
Roberto Mancini's side may yet win the league, but given the millions they have spent and the sheer numbers at their disposal they should have wrapped the title up weeks ago - not to mention progressed beyond the Champions League group stage.
No matter that Carlos Tevez went awol or that Mario Balotelli threw his toys out of the pram, they still had David Silva, Edin Dzeko, Sergio Aguero and Samir Nasri to call upon. With just ten starts to his name Adam Johnson has also been criminally underused.
Meanwhile, despite one of their worst league showings in living memory, Liverpool reached two cup finals and came within a whisker of taking Chelsea to extra time in Saturday's FA Cup final. Kenny Dalglish's side have been desperately poor this season and their lack of creativity was all too apparent for the first hour at Wembley.
Steven Gerrard scored a wonderful hat-trick against Everton back in March but such dynamic performances are a rarity nowadays - perhaps a legacy of his long-term injury problems. In fact, it was only when the much-maligned Andy Carroll came on that the Merseysiders flickered to life - albeit with a game plan of heaving it up to the big man.
Still, at least they had a Plan B, which is more than can be said for Arsenal. Persevering with a purist footballing philosophy is all well and good but as Barcelona discovered to their cost against Chelsea recently, those who fail to adapt fail to survive.
Nobody is putting Arsenal on a par with the Barça, but the Gunners are at times great to watch, and those neutrals who witnessed the 3-3 draw with Norwich have already described it as one of the matches of the season. Yet when such contempt is shown towards defending, no side, however, good or attractive, can be expected to win anything. A leader is still needed in that side, but we all know that Arsene Wenger will not buy one.
Arsenal's fate no longer lies in their hands and should they fail to qualify for the Champions League for the first time in 15 years they will only have themselves to blame. They have been dogged by injuries this term - and Bacary Sagna will now miss the rest of the season as well as the Euros after another leg break - but they have dropped nine points out of a possible 12 and if that is down to the absence of Mikel Arteta, who was bought as an August afterthought then there is something very wrong at command HQ.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have salvaged perhaps their best ever season from the jaws of disaster. Admittedly, they are cast adrift in sixth place and still staring the prospect of Europa League football next season in the face, yet they have just won the FA Cup and are in the Champions League final.
Like Mohamed Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle they have taken an almighty battering yet have found the spirit and resolve to drag themselves off the ropes to stand on the brink of history. The once written-off Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech - who made the save of all Cup final saves against Liverpool - have once more proven themselves to be big-game players so that on a day when a move by Chelsea to Battersea has been mooted, they have shown there is life in the old dog yet.
And there is also plenty of juice left in the season. Tottenham, seemingly out of top-four contention after losing to Norwich and QPR last month could now pip their north London rivals to the punch, while Newcastle also continue to astound. But can they keep springing surprises? Just how many wonder goals can Papiss Cissé score?
And that's just the point. This season has been a nightmare for the punters to predict what's going to happen next. But it isn't half exciting.