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Believe the hype - Sunday's showdown could ultimately decide the title race

Man City host Liverpool in a top-of-the-table clash, with both sides in superb form.

Kyle Walker of Manchester City battles for the ball with Andrew Robertson of Liverpool.
Kyle Walker of Manchester City battles for the ball with Andrew Robertson of Liverpool.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

IT IS very rare for a standalone Premier League fixture to feel so significant as this weekend’s top-of-the-table clash.

Man City host Liverpool on Sunday in a contest whose winner will be seen as strong favourites to subsequently claim the title.

More so than any other two teams, Man City and Liverpool in the modern era have redefined what it takes to be Premier League champions.

Perhaps the aptest comparison with this weekend’s fixture is the clash between the two teams on 3 January 2019.

Man City were playing at home on that occasion too and earned a narrow 2-1 victory over Liverpool.

The Reds had not lost a Premier League game for the whole season up to that point and also went unbeaten for the remainder of that campaign.

Yet incredibly, Man City managed to pip them to the title by a point.

During that memorable Etihad clash, John Stones made a desperate clearance off the line. It felt like a metaphor for the entire season. Liverpool were millimetres away from the goal that ultimately would have secured them the point necessary to draw the game, win the title and go the entire season unbeaten.

In the earlier days of the Premier League, the best sides could afford to slip up a few times. The year Man United won the treble, for instance, they finished on 79 points.

Yet in four of the last five seasons, the title winners have ended up on 90-plus points — a remarkable tally in the context of English football history. When Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea did likewise in the mid-2000s, it felt freakish. In that famous 2018-19 campaign, 97 points were only enough to see Liverpool finish second.

The top teams are invariably more efficient than ever now. The margin for error is minimal.

Whatever happens though, City’s record-breaking tally of 100 points set in the 2017-18 season will not be eclipsed — if the Etihad outfit prevails in all eight of their remaining fixtures, they will still only finish on 97 points.

Of course, both managers have sought to play down the importance of Sunday, emphasising that there is plenty more football still to play as they bid to avoid accusations of complacency.

Privately though, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola will understand that it is a game their respective sides scarcely can avoid losing.

Consider the schedules for the two teams’ run-ins…

Man City: Wolves away, Brighton home, Watford home, Leeds away, Newcastle home, West Ham away, Aston Villa home.

Liverpool: Man United home, Everton home, Newcastle away, Tottenham home, Aston Villa away, Southampton away, Wolves home.

Of course, it is entirely feasible that Man City or Liverpool could drop further points between now and the end of the season.

But it is also easy to imagine either going on a seven-game winning run, particularly on the back of the major boost either would receive from winning this weekend.

Their current records are very similar — Man City: won 23, drawn four, lost three. Liverpool: won 22, drawn six, lost two.

Guardiola’s men have already gone on a 12-game winning run this season. Liverpool, meanwhile, are in the midst of a 10-match winning streak.

It is also a sign of their dominance in recent times that both sides jointly hold the all-time record for most consecutive Premier League wins (18) — with Man City doing so between 26 August and 27 December 2017, while Liverpool achieved the feat between 27 October 2019 and 24 February 2020.

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In the long-term, such relentless dominance is unhealthy for the Premier League at large, but it will certainly make for a fascinating spectacle on Sunday.

There is a case to be made that the rivalry between City and Liverpool is the greatest of the Premier League era, and both sides will certainly be remembered as two of the finest ever to have graced English football.

And while there could be more drama to come, this weekend’s match is quite possibly the closest we will ever get to seeing a play-off for the Premier League title.

And a draw, of course, would suit City, but whether that factor will be advantageous or not from a psychological perspective going into the contest is one of the many fascinating subplots to what is likely to be an enthralling encounter.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures (games kick-off at 3pm unless stated otherwise):


Newcastle v Wolves (20.00)


Everton v Man United (12.30)
Arsenal v Brighton
Southampton v Chelsea
Watford v Leeds
Aston Villa v Tottenham (17.30)


Brentford v West Ham (14.00)
Leicester v Crystal Palace (14.00)
Norwich v Burnley (14.00)
Man City v Liverpool (16.30)

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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