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History is likely to repeat itself on Sunday, but don't rule out final-day drama

While Manchester City and Liverpool would both be worthy Premier League champions, there could yet be a faller at the last, writes John Brewin.

Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
Image: PA

DEVON LOCH WAS the infamous Grand National final-fence faller that Alex Ferguson referred to as his Manchester United chased down Blackburn Rovers for the 1994-95 Premier League title.

Back in 1995, both Blackburn, in losing at Anfield, and United, in drawing at West Ham, faltered at the last but Kenny Dalglish’s Rovers held on the whip hand.

That was a different time of smaller squads, when it was accepted teams at the top could afford to lose five or six matches and still lift the title, but the final day might still do strange things to even the very best.

Whoever lifts this season’s crown will be a worthy winner, such is the toss-of-coin difference between Manchester City and Liverpool, two all-time great teams in English football history, but final-day drama cannot be ruled out. Both the contenders have looked tired of late, with Liverpool rather creaking through an FA Cup final that only got away from Chelsea in the deciding penalty shootout before City wobbled at West Ham to draw 2-2 the day after.

City have been top of the league since a 3-1 win at Watford on 4 December, and as they surged ahead over the Christmas period, a fourth title in five years was an inevitability, and gave rise to a discussion that a combination of Abu Dhabi riches and Pep Guardiola’s mastery had made the self-styled best league in the world uncompetitive, like Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga, or Juventus’s previous Serie A dominance.

Why are now Liverpool so close? Answer: an unbeaten run that has endured since a defeat to Leicester on 28 December. Since a 2-2 draw with Chelsea on 2 January, they have won 15 from 17 Premier League matches, only a 2-2 draw with City on 10 April and 7 May’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham preventing a perfect record since then. During that same spell, City have only lost once and drawn four times, including the match with Liverpool at the Etihad, winning the rest.

Awesome, relentless, irresistible, just a single point separates Guardiola’s team from Jurgen Klopp’s over the last four seasons but it all comes down to Sunday. Should City prevail over Aston Villa, then whatever Liverpool can do will be in vain.

Even though they have already banked two domestic cups and travel to Paris next week for the Champions League, there may still be a regret that this Liverpool team, one that bears comparison with any in the club’s history, has not won enough league titles.

City, meanwhile, have their own regrets, repeated Champions League failures chief among them, but their fans have been able to boast of Guardiola’s dominance of the Premier League, each delivered via some form of breaking the orthodoxy.

With Erling Haaland signed up to be the striker of the next great City team, this season will be recalled as that when Guardiola wilfully decided he could do without a striker, regularly using Gabriel Jesus as a winger to further prove it.

brighton-and-hove-albion-v-aston-villa-premier-league-amex-stadium Former Reds Steven Gerrard and Philippe Coutinho stand in the way of Manchester City. Source: PA

The subplots that await on Sunday are rich. Eyebrows were raised in Manchester when Steven Gerrard chose to rest Danny Ings and Philippe Coutinho for Aston Villa’s final home match of the season on Thursday. Was the former Liverpool captain saving his forwards to try and deny City, the club who benefitted from his Demba Ba slip on his final tilt at the title, back when he was Anfield’s heartbeat?

And then there is Guardiola himself, whose usual intensity has ratcheted up to a level where one might fear for his mental health and blood pressure. Last week at the London Stadium, he went all death or glory, when saying that “we will give them all of our lives to do it” and repeatedly – oddly – stating the Etihad will be sold out on Sunday.

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Not that Klopp has been a modicum of calm, his dig at Tottenham a fortnight ago a betrayal of the mental strain both he and Guardiola will be under.

There’s been little like the mind games Ferguson and Dalglish played in 1995, the pair are respectful of each other, but tension is apparent.

Three years ago, when the two went in the final day separated by a point, there was a brief wobble when Brighton’s Glenn Murray scored the opening goal, only for City to equalise immediately and run out 4-1 winners. Liverpool, having led from the first minute at Tottenham, were left helpless, though could soon soothe their ills with another European Cup.

History repeating itself is likely, though a faller at the last cannot be ruled out.

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