Following Liverpool’s nervy victory over Southampton last weekend, the Scousers reclaimed the top spot of the English Premier League. Manchester City, however, have a game in hand, and should the Mancunians win they will go top of the league.
Having played 33 games this season, Liverpool sit on 82 points with 75 goals scored and a goal differential of +55. City, on the other hand, have played 32 games and earned 80 points, scored 83 goals and have a goal differential of +62. Whilst they are behind on points, the Mancunians are ahead on goal differential and goals scored, which are the second and third tie-breakers after points accumulated in a single season. These tie-breakers may serve as important factors at the end of this season’s title race.
Therefore, the objective is simple. Should Manchester City win their final six EPL matches, they will retain the title. In practice, however, this will be difficult. The Sky Blues have already secured their place in the FA Cup Final, and will face Tottenham Hotspur in the UEFA Champions League Quarter-finals. At a minimum, this adds three matches to their congested EPL schedule, and fatigue is starting to play a factor in their productivity.
The Sky Blues already won the Community Shield and EFL “Carabao” Cup this season, and are heavy favourites against Watford in the FA Cup Final. The challenge, however, will be balancing their EPL matches with the Champions League, and it is likely these games will conflict. Given the list of fixtures, there is a possibility the Sky Blues could falter in one of their final EPL matches this season. Upon further examination, these are the three games that could cost Manchester City the title.
Crystal Palace vs Manchester City – Sunday, 14 April
The Sky Blues will face the Spurs in their two-legged Champions League Quarter-final affair on 9 and 17 April. Sandwiched in between these two legs is a difficult trip to South London. On paper, the Sky Blues are expected to win this fixture. The Eagles, however, have recently emerged as a bogey team for City. Over the past three EPL fixtures, City have won once, drawn once and lost once. Their most recent encounter was in December 2018, where City lost at home 2-3.
Many have speculated the UEFA Champions League is City’s top priority this season, and following their 1-0 loss against the Spurs in the first leg, the Sky Blues may opt to play a weaker side on Sunday in order to close out the tie against the Spurs in the second leg. This decision could prove to be costly in their attempts to retain the EPL title.
Manchester City vs Tottenham Hotspur – Saturday, 20 April
Tottenham Hotspur will be City’s most difficult opponent in this final portion of the season. Over the span of 11 days, the Sky Blues will face the Spurs on three occasions: twice in the Champions League and once in the EPL. Given the nature of their schedules, it is likely both City manager Pep Guardiola and Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino will become very familiar with their opponents and their tactics. In other words, there are only so many ways in which these two managers can select their players, lineups and tactics, as they will both look to play their strongest formations.
Pochettino and the Spurs hold the advantage, as they defeated Guardiola and City in the first leg of the Quarter-finals. But statistically, it is very unlikely either side will get a result in all three fixtures, especially in such a short period of time. Therefore, due to the repetitiveness of the opposition, it is predicted this is where City may lose the title. Whilst it will not be done intentionally, as they are still in contention for all four trophies this season, this may be the period in which match fatigue and complacency finally catch up with the Sky Blues.
Manchester United vs Manchester City – Wednesday, 24 April
City’s final difficult fixture, at least on paper, will see them travel across town to face Manchester United. The Sky Blues recorded a victory over the Reds earlier this season, and their rivals will be looking for revenge.
United and their fans are torn in this situation. On one hand Liverpool, who are fiercer rivals for United than City, may be on course to lift their first league title in the EPL era. Moreover, it would bring Liverpool one step closer to United’s trophy total (Liverpool’ have 61 to United’s 66).
On the other hand, Manchester City are on course to win an unprecedented quadruple, or in Guardiola’s eyes, a quintuple. The Sky Blues already won the Community Shield and Carabao Cup this season, and will be heavy favourites in the FA Cup Final. The EPL title and Champions League are still in contention, and whilst there are many games to play, it is possbile City can still win these trophies.
In other words, United have an opportunity to play spoiler in City’s quest for the quintuple, and they will try to take advantage of this opportunity. After all, the Reds delayed the Sky Blues from lifting the EPL title in the derby last season.
Honourable Mention: Manchester City vs Leicester City – Saturday, 4 May
Depending on how far the Sky Blues advance in the Champions League, this fixture would be sandwiched in between a potential semi-final tie against either Ajax or Juventus. Like Crystal Palace, Leicester City have also disrupted City’s rhythm. Over the past two seasons, a stubborn Leicester side forced City into a penalty shootout in the Carabao Cup on both occasions. Moreover, the Foxes shocked the Sky Blues in December 2018 at the King Power Stadium.
Leceister currently sit in seventh in the EPL table, which is the final spot for European contention. If Leicester remain in seventh later this season, a place in Europe will serve as additional motivation for the Foxes to defeat the Sky Blues.
Overall, Manchester City find themselves in a difficult situation as there will be numerous challenges that will look to prevent them from achieving the impossible.
But according to Guardiola, one thing cannot be forgotten. Regardless of how these scenarios play out, his City side is “already incredible” with or without additional silverware this season.
Time will tell if he is right.