The destiny of the Premier League trophy will not be decided this weekend, but Manchester City’s top-of-the-table showdown with Liverpool at the Etihad could give a very clear indication as to which side will propel themselves to the crown.
The gap between the two sides at the top of the table now stands at just one point, with the reigning champions just about holding off the threat of the Reds for the time being.
Both sides head into the meeting off the back of Champions League quarter-final first-leg wins, with City getting the better of Atletico Madrid 1-0 while Liverpool ran out 3-1 winners over Benfica.
It has only taken two draws and a loss for City to lose their grip on what seemed certain to be a sixth Premier League crown, as Liverpool continued to rampage forwards while Southampton, Crystal Palace and Tottenham Hotspur dented Pep Guardiola’s dreams of back-to-back glory.
At one stage eight points clear at the top of the rankings having played the same amount of games as Liverpool – 14 at one point having played two games more – City are still fighting for success on three fronts this season after ceding their customary EFL Cup crown to the Reds.
City’s title destiny is still in their own hands, though, and victory on their own turf would see them open up a potentially-unassailable four-point gap at the summit heading into the final seven games of the season, but a Champions League quarter-final second leg with Atletico and a reunion with Liverpool in the semi-finals of the FA Cup represents a gruelling Easter period for the Citizens.
Heading into Sunday’s game at the Etihad with the wind in their sails was therefore of paramount importance for Man City, who eased to a 2-0 win at Burnley through Kevin De Bruyne and Ilkay Gundogan’s efforts before eventually managing to find their way through the low block of Atletico.
With Diego Simeone’s side appearing to deploy a 5-5-0 formation in the hopes of keeping the scoreline respectable before welcoming City to the Wanda Metropolitano, the Citizens were incapable of finding their way through the packed backline – and even then they had to somehow beat the ever-reliable Jan Oblak.
However, the introduction of Phil Foden breathed new life into Man City, who will take a first-leg advantage to Madrid after De Bruyne’s 70th-minute strike from Foden’s assist, and the dream of a domestic and continental treble is still well and truly alive for the English champions.
City will take an eight-game unbeaten run in all competitions into Sunday’s top-of-the-table battle – winning six of them, including each of their last three – and they have conceded a mere two goals in that stretch; no mean feat with the effervescent Ruben Dias watching on from the treatment room.
Conceding just 18 goals in 30 Premier League games this season unsurprisingly gives City the label of the division’s best defensive side this term, while 40 goals on home soil is also the best of its kind – even if Liverpool have gleaned more points on familiar territory this season.
Not since October have City failed to find the back of the net in a Premier League game at the Etihad – winning eight of their last nine such matches alongside that shock defeat to Tottenham – but Liverpool have all the motivation that they need to consign City to a potentially fatal defeat.
Potentially getting some early mind games in by hailing his counterpart Guardiola as “the best coach in the world”, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has entered the month of April with the quadruple still a real possibility, although he is probably already sick of hearing the word.
Having already stolen Man City’s EFL Cup crown out of their grasp and within touching distance of doing the same to their coveted Premier League title, Liverpool – to put it simply – have been a winning machine since January, and they have not rested on their laurels since the international break.
Liverpool were not at their free-flowing best against Watford at Anfield last weekend but nevertheless got over the line comfortably thanks to Diogo Jota’s header and Fabinho’s exemplary penalty, with that result seeing them briefly rise to the summit before City restored order at Burnley.
Many of those keenly watching Tuesday’s Champions League battle at the Estadio da Luz would have had their eyes on Benfica’s Darwin Nunez – who did take advantage of a defensive lapse from Liverpool to strike for the Portuguese side – but Ibrahima Konate, Sadio Mane and Luis Diaz all ensured a healthy first-leg win for the Reds, with the latter certainly revelling in returning to rival Portuguese turf with a goal and assist.
The Reds have moved on from the days of the indispensable Mohamed Salah-Roberto Firmino-Sadio Mane front three, but two astute attacking acquisitions in Jota and Diaz continue to prove their worth to the manager; giving him the healthiest kind of selection headache for Sunday.
The 3-1 win at Benfica marked Liverpool’s fifth victory in a row in all competitions, and Klopp’s side have astonishingly prevailed in 17 of their last 18 games domestically and continentally – only Inter Milan have been able to get one over the Merseyside giants in that run.
Liverpool’s remarkable run of victories sees them head into Sunday’s game aiming to win in the Premier League for the 11th time in a row, with last weekend’s triumph over Watford seeing them string together 10 Premier League wins for the fifth time in their history – matching the previous record set by, you guessed it, Man City.
While they will be coming up against the league’s best defence, Liverpool have proven to be pretty adept at keeping the ball away from their own net with five successive clean sheets in the Premier League, and a whopping tally of 77 goals is the highest in the league by far.
Playing on rival turf has certainly not phased the Merseyside giants in recent weeks either, with Liverpool winning eight in a row away from home across all competitions, but not since 2010 have they been able to keep a clean sheet at the Etihad Stadium.
If there is a victor on the blue side of Manchester this weekend, the Premier League trophy will be theirs to lose, but challenges aplenty will still present themselves amid City and Liverpool’s hectic schedules before the curtain closes on another fascinating title battle.
Manchester City Premier League form:
Manchester City form (all competitions):
Liverpool Premier League form:
Liverpool form (all competitions):
We say: Manchester City 2-2 Liverpool
It would be typical if the footballing gods gifted us with a drab 0-0 in what has been billed as a pulsating encounter between two rampant attacking forces, and a stalemate would certainly lead to an intriguing battle for supremacy in the final few weeks.
Liverpool’s wealth of attacking options will not need a second invitation to take advantage of Dias’s absence, but Guardiola has got one over Klopp more often than not in recent years, and we are simply unable to back either side to down the other with any real confidence – instead opting for an entertaining draw as the title goes down to the wire.