After Tottenham Hotspurs’ 2-0 defeat at Chelsea during midweek, the Premier League title run-in has formally been confirmed as what it has actually been since practically the start of the season: a two-horse race between Manchester City and Liverpool.
Spurs, now only four points ahead of Arsenal at the start of the weekend, with the two sides meeting this gameweek, are now well and truly in the dogfight for the Champions League places along with their North London rivals, Manchester United and Chelsea. United earned a stalemate against Liverpool at Old Trafford last weekend, which kept them in the hunt for top four as well.
The 0-0 draw last weekend meant that Liverpool are now one point ahead of Man City with both sides having played 28 matches each. City, meanwhile, won their first piece of silverware by beating Chelsea in the League Cup on penalties in the most dramatic of circumstances.
It’s evident that both races – the one for the title and the Champions League spots – will go down to the wire. Both Liverpool and Man City would fancy their chances to fulfill what would be contrasting achievements.
City being the defending champions could become the first English side in a decade to retain the league title. While for Liverpool, it would be the elusive title that they’ve been chasing for three decades.
City should be two points clear by the time you read this on Sunday, with Pep Guardiola’s side slated to travel to Bournemouth on Saturday. The Merseyside derby today (Sunday) would then have additional zing to it, with Liverpool needing a win to go back to the top of the table and keep their fate in their own hands.
After travelling to Goodison Park, the remaining nine fixtures have many that should be straightforward for Liverpool, given their current form. The toughest fixtures on paper among the remaining nine are Spurs and Chelsea, both of which will be home games for Liverpool.
City too have to host Spurs in their remaining nine fixtures, but perhaps the most challenging would be the visit to Old Trafford, even if the champions have had the edge over Manchester United in recent seasons.
On the balance of fixtures, it’s pretty even for City and Liverpool. It would hence come down to who delivers the goods when needed.
For City, Sergio Aguero has been in scintillating form in recent weeks, with eight goals in the last five matches – including two hat-tricks. Mohammed Salah, meanwhile, has gone a little off the boil for Liverpool with only one goal in the last five matches. However, Sadio Mane has been among the goals for the league leaders, with another double in the 5-0 win over Watford on Wednesday.
Another decisive factor in the league would be the commitments of the two clubs in other tournaments. City are still in the FA Cup, while Liverpool were knocked out of it early. And while Liverpool’s tie against Bayern Munich pretty much hangs in the balance, City have the edge over Schalke in their Round of 16 clash in the Champions League.
Meanwhile, with Spurs now being dragged into the top-four race, there are actually two positions up for grabs – third and fourth. Among the four sides contesting this race, United are the only ones remaining in the FA Cup.
United are in the Champions League as well, along with Spurs, but the odds are that it’s only Tottenham who would be in the quarters after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-0 in the first leg. United were beaten at home 0-2 by a rampant Paris Saint Germaine. Chelsea and Arsenal, meanwhile, are in the Europa League.
United play both Arsenal and Chelsea in the remaining fixtures, and would host Manchester City as well. Spurs host Arsenal this weekend, and would travel to both title contenders Liverpool and City later on in the season.
Chelsea travel to Liverpool and United in their remaining fixtures. Arsenal, meanwhile, travel to Spurs this weekend and host United next weekend, after which they won’t face any of the top six sides for the rest of the season.
If Arsenal are within touching distance of the fourth spot – which they occupy at the start of the weekend – after next week’s clash against United, they would have the easiest run in in the race for Champions League spots.
The momentum, however, in this particular race is with United who have been unbeaten since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in December. Chelsea have problems within the squad with question marks over Maurizio Sarri’s future. And it would be interesting to see how Spurs’ participation in the race for top four would be, having for long been a part of the title race – especially since they in all likelihood would be in the Champions League quarters as well.
It’s all to play for as the top six in the Premier League are now clearly divided into two separate and equally tightly-contested races.