As game week 30 comes to a close, Manchester City led by Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool continue to battle it out for the league title, with none of the sides looking to slip up, both winning their games this weekend. The two-horse race is led by the Manchester club on 74 points followed closely by Liverpool on 73, making it very likely that the title will be excitingly wrapped up on the penultimate game.
The small point gap has made the title very difficult to predict, sparking debates all over the country. These debates have been aggravated by the fact that both teams have had large point advantages throughout the season and have both thrown them away, letting the other team back into the fight. It was only on the 19th January (7 games ago) that Liverpool had a huge 7 point advantage over City and only shortly prior to that on the 4thDecember that Man City had a 5 point lead at the summit. Looking at these statistics it seems like none of the clubs are prepared to give up the fight promising the last 8 games will live up to most fans expectations after an exciting season.
For a Liverpool fan this trophy is undoubtedly the one they want to win. Without a Premier League trophy in their history and not a top division title since 1990, the fans have had a long and painful wait to lift England’s finest silverware.
For City fans in recent years, winning the Premier League has been business as usual, but the trophy they are setting their sights on isthe Champions League, an honour the club has never won. With talks of aquadruple, could Pep’s men win everything and break Liverpool hearts along theway?
In this article I will have my say on the debate and make my predictions as to who will take the title.
It’s a squad game:
With 8 games to go an injury could shake up the title racedramatically, especially for Liverpool who have many key players who would betough to replace.
Liverpool mainly play a 4-3-3 but sometimes switch to a more defensive 4-2-3-1. When you look to Liverpool’s squad there are many positions that cannot be filled by a player of the same quality and they are extremely reliant on a consistent starting 11.
Starting with the attackers Liverpool have fielded the feared trio of Salah, Mane and Firmino consistently for the past 2 seasons in a team that are recognised for their attacking prowess rather than their defensive stability. In the 2017/2018 season they reached the Champions League final playing an electrifying, attacking brand of football which was brilliant to watch for a neutral fan. This season, 40/69 goals that Liverpool have scored in all competitions have been shared between the three. Looking to Liverpool’s bench they have: Xherdan Shaqiri who made a reported £13m move to the club this summer, Divock Origi, a part time player for Liverpool since 2014 and Daniel Sturridge, a player who has never been in favour under their current manager. No fan can argue that any of these are adequate replacements in this area and are not of the same quality meaning an injury could really shake up their titlepush.
In midfield, Liverpool are amuch stronger unit with many replacements. The signings of Fabinho and Kieta have really bolstered their midfield options adding to the likes of Milner,Henderson, Wijnaldum and Lallana. This gives the reds 6 options for 3 midfield positions,all players who are like for like in these areas. A key player for Klopp this season has been Fabinho, who signed from Monaco this summer for £44m. At the start of the season the big-Brazilian had to be patient for game time but since he has established himself as a key figure, playing the holding midfield role and helping the reds gain some much needed defensive stability.
Defensively Liverpool have improved massively this year and is one of the major reasons why they are pushing for the title. The signing of Virgil van Dijk has been a revolution and has silenced any doubter (including myself) who questioned the substantial transfer fee. The Dutchman has been tipped to be the Premier League’sbest defender this season and his colossal stature, pace, aerial presence and ability to read the game make him a truly all-round centre half. At the beginning of the season Liverpool were solid at the back conceding few goals lined up with a back 4 of Robertson, Van Dijk, Gomez and Alexander-Arnold. They got a lot of praise for beating smaller teams such as Leicester City, teams who Liverpool would usually slip up against and these results were put down to Liverpool’snew found defensive stability. Currently this back 4 is the same but Joel Matipis in for Joe Gomez who is suffering a long term injury. Like their attacking line up Liverpool will struggle to replace their defence if they were to be hit by injuries. Starting with their attacking full–backs, Robertson and the young Alexander-Arnold have recorded 16 assists between them. To cover these they have Moreno and James Milner who is usually first choice to fill in for the pair but thereplacements lack the attacking flair that is a huge asset to Liverpool. Butthe real trouble Liverpool face is in the centre-back positions. Currently with no other fit centre backs Liverpool are relying heavily on Matip and Van Dijk but an injury to any of them two could cause huge problems. Fabinho can play inthis position and did against Bayern Munich in a 0-0 draw in the Champions League, but this may not be a long term solution and could affect Liverpool’s attacking game.
Another reason for Liverpool’s defensive improvements has been the addition if Alisson Becker, who signed from Roma in the summer. For many seasons the Liverpool fans have grown frustrated about the goalkeeping situation and the lack of investment in this area. But the Champions League final was the final straw where Loris Karius was at fault for two Real Madrid goals. Alisson has been asolid addition for Liverpool and looks to be constantly improving while playing in the Premier League.
Unlike Liverpool, City have a terrific depth throughout their squad making it difficult to identify anybody who has a guaranteed place in the starting 11, with an exception of the goalkeeper Ederson. The Citizens also usually line up with a 4-3-3 formation.
Pep Guardiola has 6 key players to fill their front three positions. On the wing they boast Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and summer signing Riyad Mahrez. All of these players have been utilised equally by Pep throughout the Premier League season and have chipped in with goals and assists. In the lone striker position they have Sergio Aguero, a Premier League great and Gabriel Jesus, a young talent who Pep has transformed into a great player. All 6 of these players have great talent backed up by consistency under the current manager putting City in a strong position going forward.
Across the midfield, City are arguably even stronger. They have some of the best Premier League talents such as David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne aswell as Fernandinho, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Fabian Delph and Phil Foden. This packed out midfield will give Pep headaches over team selection every game but the manager is lucky to have all these options. This has been proven by the fact that star man Kevin De Bruyne has only made 14 Premier League appearances this season due to injury showing the strength in depth City have throughout their midfield. Without De Bruyne, City were able to push on and stay in the title race where as if Liverpool were to lose one of their star men such as Salah or Van Dijk they would struggle to replace.
I would say defensively is where Man City are at their weakest but still possess many options across the back. This season City have fielded, Walker, Danilo, Kompany, Stones, Laporte, Otamendi, Zinchenko andtransformed left-back Fabian Delph giving them 8 defensive options. Where as in previous years, City have relied on Vincent Kompany but have struggled due to his injury problems they now have a solid armoury of defenders who they canutilise.
There’s more to win than the Premier League:
Besides the Premier League both Liverpool and City are still competing in the Champions League who have second leg ties against Bayern Munich (A) and Schalke (H) respectively, ties that will be decided today (12th March) and tomorrow (13th March). On top of this the league leaders are still in the FA Cup who face Swansea City this weekend.
Predictions of Man City to win the quadruple have been made due to Pep’s ruthlessness in cup competitions. In a recent tie with Newport County, a team playing in the fourth division of English football, City fielded the likes of David Silva, Sane, Jesus and Mahrez guiding a team to a 4-1 win. With the League Cup already under their belts, this winning mentality in all competitions makes it likely that City will progress, who could still play a potential of 17 more games before the season is up. But with a big squad which Pep rotates regularly, the City boys have been able to deal with the busy fixture schedule up until now and which will prepare them going forward.
Liverpool have taken a more back seat in domestic cup competitions this season, getting knocked out in both the League Cup and FA Cup in their first test. They fielded weaker teams against both Chelsea and Wolves showing their ambition to focus on the Premier League and Champions League. This leaves Liverpool with 14 potential games to play, 3 less than City. Although it will be tough for Liverpool to qualify as they have to go the Allianz Arena on Wednesday on the back of a 0-0 at Anfield. A loss would leave them with only 8 more games to play.
As more games are played the chances of fatigue and injury are only going to increase, a problem that could seriously affect Liverpool dueto their scarce squad and lack of rotation. If they were to be knocked out ofthe Champions League they could focus entirely on the Premier League, this would benefit recovery, fitness and allow for them to prepare for each opponentin more depth.
In recent years, City have won many domestic competitions creating a winning mentality around the club. Guardiola has added to this and in his time at City he has won the League Cup twice and the Premier League once.
At Liverpool, Klopp is yet to win a trophy, losing in 3 finals. Looking through their team there is a lack of players who have won competitions for other clubs. This raises question as to whether the Liverpool players will have the experience to cope with the huge pressure.
Spurs (H) – Although Tottenham aren’t currently on form inthe Premier League they are top of the chasing pack and possess the likes of Kane, Erikson and Son. If they Spurs turn up they certainly have the quality tohurt Liverpool.
Chelsea (H) – We all remember the infamous Gerrard slip on game week 34 in 2014. Could Chelsea return to Anfield, again on game week 34 toprevent them from winning the title?
Spurs (H) – Man City haven’t lost to Tottenham Hotspur since 2016. Could Spurs get revenge so close to the end of the season?
Man Utd (A) – A local derby at Old Trafford, The Red Devils high flying under Ole, could City drop crucial points and let Liverpool backin?
I believe the team who will lift the Premier League on the12th May will be – Manchester City.
With one of the best squads in the league, their winning mentality and being led by one of the best coaches of the Premier League era itis difficult to look past the Manchester club.
Although, it’s football, it is unpredictable and with 8 games to go anybody can take the title. For me, if Liverpool get knocked out of the Champions League they are in serious contention to challenge. They can commit all their resources and preparation to the last 8 games compared to City who will be preparing for a potential of 17 games in the league, FA Cup and Champions League.
Whatever happens it is guaranteed that the last 8 games willbe full of twists and turns.
Who do you think will lift the title?