Manuel Pellegrini must experiment with nothing to lose vs. Southampton
It's very rare these days that Manchester City get a competitive game with absolutely nothing riding on it. In years gone by, the fans would count themselves lucky if safety was secured in April and the campaign was trundling to its conclusion.
If the supporters were very fortunate, then the end-of-season finale wouldn't finish 8-1 to Middlesbrough, as it did in 2008. It still pains me that the best goal in that game just happened to be the single one that Elano scored for Manchester City. You can always tell a good meaningless consolation -- the Brazilian's made it 7-1 at the time -- when the player looks like he'd rather have missed. Elano's face was a picture.
Most seasons, nowadays, City still have something to fight for right up to the final match. The club's previous two titles were won in the last game, while 2010-11 saw automatic qualification for the Champions League riding on whether Roberto Mancini's side won at Bolton. So, unable to move up or down from their second place in the table on Sunday, the fans in the stands will no doubt be expecting Manuel Pellegrini to do something he's seemed very unwilling to do previously.
It's time for some young blood to be brought into the first team's matchday squad.
During the campaign the chances to experiment are limited, though they are there, and the manager's previously passed them up. Although the club was eliminated from the League Cup to Newcastle, on another night the boss could have reasonably expected to be winning comfortably by the hour mark. Had he been, he'd not have been able to give any Elite Development Squad players first-team experience as none had been named on the bench.
Because Sunday's opponents Southampton still have a European place to play for (assuming that Ronald Koeman's side are actually trying to qualify, rather than risk the stress of a Europa League campaign next year making them underperform), the fixture will be a good test. The visitors will be combative and the hosts have nothing to lose.
By beating Swansea 4-2, City have already ended one side's European ambitions this week and, even with nothing to play for on the last day, they'll be aiming to do it again -- if for no other reason than to keep their five-match winning streak going.
That being said, it'd still need a pragmatic approach if there were youngsters involved. The starting XI would likely still need to be made up of all senior players, with the subs' bench reserved for those needing to gain experience likes Jose Pozo and Kelechi Iheanacho. After all, there's still time to try things for next season.
For instance, how do Sergio Aguero and Wilfried Bony link up from the start? Can Vincent Kompany and Eliaquim Mangala form a solid partnership in defence for the future? What options does the manager have if he'd like to deviate from his 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 formations?
The 2014-15 season hasn't been the success story that many were hoping for, but equally it's not been the horror show that a lot have painted it as either. Aside from a shoddy run of form throughout February and March, the results haven't been a disaster -- though it is alarming the number of times the side relinquished a two-goal lead, even if they ended up getting their noses back in front. Hull, CSKA Moscow, Burnley, Sunderland, Aston Villa, and Swansea have all done it.
Sunday presents an opportunity for Pellegrini to draw a line under the disappointment of an underwhelming campaign, put on a show for the fans to enjoy and to send a message to Chelsea that the club isn't going anywhere. After all, he and Jose Mourinho aren't exactly the best of friends, so the Chilean isn't going to let the title stay in London without a fight.
It's 1-1 on titles in England between the two managers heading into next season, so Pellegrini will want to make sure his team is in top shape for 2015-16. A visit from Southampton will give him a small opportunity to learn about the youngsters who could make the step up and first teamers who are going to remain at the club after the summer.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney