Long after the dust is settled, this will go down as one of the most exhilarating title races in Premier League history. It has been a tug of war for Liverpool and Manchester City since the season began. And none is letting up. City has looked down and out at some point but battled back to contention in dramatic fashion.
The game against Jurgen Klopp’s men in January at the Etihad Stadium was the turning point. Lose, and the Reds would have gone 10 points clear at the top of the table. And considering how good the Anfield side has been this season, there would have been no catching them.
But Guardiola’s men did themselves a world of good by handing the Merseysiders a first defeat of the campaign. A spirited performance at home secured a vital win that breathed life into a title race that could have easily become a one-horse race.
And that’s no thanks to the fact that neither of Manchester United, Chelsea nor Arsenal turned up for the party this term. The English giants have been a shadow of themselves this campaign especially in the Premier League.
The trio has not even been able to trouble Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham in third place, as inconsistency has dogged their season. Suffice to say, the instability has its roots off the pitch as the three clubs have witnessed changes even from the dugout. Ageing players, poor tactics and form have made progress difficult. Add to that squad unrest due to transfer speculations and the ingredients for an average season are complete. Hence, it has not been a surprise.
So has it not been a surprise that Liverpool has been so good. Adding a world class goalkeeper, Brazil’s first choice in Alisson Becker to any team will make a huge difference. But when you also solidify the defence with one of the best center backs in the game at the moment, a PFA Player of the Year nominee, you raise the stakes even higher. Two solid midfield reinforcements in Fabinho, and Naby Keita add squad depth good enough to win trophies.
Yet, Pep Guardiola has refused to be deterred from his goal to defend a title he won in grand style last term. The Sky Blues have gone about their business in an efficient and assured manner, ready to take advantage of any slip-ups from a determined Liverpool. And that has paid dividends. Despite refusing to lose a league game all season, except for the 2-1 defeat at the Etihad Stadium, a couple of draws provided the opportunity. And boy, did City seize it?
After dispatching Tottenham 1-0 in a game that will hardly compensate for the disappointment of missing out on qualification for the Champions League semi-final, the biggest remaining hurdle to retaining the title was a date with an old enemy at Old Trafford.
It proved to be a cagey affair early on as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set up with a five-man defence. Desperate to make amends for the 4-0 humiliation United suffered at the hands of Everton, a draw would have been considered a good result by the home side. And so the team was set up to defend and hope to get something out of the game by catching City on the counter. It worked in the first half as the game ended goalless. But the Sky Blues turned the screws in the second half, running United ragged and scoring twice to settle the tie.
With three games left to play, is this done and dusted? Are the Cityzens now champions in waiting?
Next up is a date with relegation threatened Burnley at Turf Moor on Sunday. That is a difficult hunting ground. Sean Dyche‘s men held Chelsea to a 2-2 draw in their last game at Stamford Bridge. At home, they can spoil the party for any team. The good thing is Guardiola and his players are well aware of this and know what to do.
But even beating Burnley will not complete the job. Yes, there is still the little matter of getting past a Leicester side that beat City 2-1 back in December. And there are no prizes for guessing who’s at the dugout, Brendan Rodgers. Could this be his chance to decide the destination of the title after City pipped his Liverpool side to the trophy in 2014? Again Guardiola and his troops know what to do, especially at the Etihad Stadium.
Finally, Brighton have not done themselves any favours losing 2-0 at home to relegation rivals Cardiff. Yet, City would not take Chris Houghton’s men for granted. The last game of the season will be against a side seeking any points available to avoid relegation. Desperate as Huddersfield Town was last term, they can go to any length to get even a point, especially in front of their home fans. But then again, City knows what to do.
So it’s fair to say that after dispatching Man United at Old Trafford, the Premier League title has been won. Anything otherwise will be a massive surprise. Yes, the league is not short of surprises. But at this stage, it's a job that must be completed.