Premier League Set for 3-Way Title Fight
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While the Premier League often boasts it’s the best league in the world, it has in recent years lacked an exciting title race. Last season saw Manchester City break the 100-point barrier and secure the title with 5 games to spare. In 2017, Antonio Conte’s Chelsea won the title by a 7-point margin. Two years prior, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea took the title by 8 points.
We also witnessed the Leicester City miracle, but as much as their title win was a shock, it was still achieved with games to spare. In fact, the last season to offer a genuine close title fight was in 2013-14 with Manchester City securing the title on the closing day of the season.
City retakes the lead
Ironically, it’s the same two prospective champions who gave us that thrilling race in 2014 leading the way in Manchester City and Liverpool, with Tottenham providing an outside challenge. City retook the lead on Wednesday night with a 2-0 win at Everton, after Liverpool recorded back-to-back draws with Leicester and West Ham. City leads Liverpool on goal difference, with Tottenham a further 5-point adrift. Crucially, City has now played one game more than their rivals, who both have 13 games left to play.
City has often looked better this season than they did last, but have already lost 4 times in their last 10 games. This is compared to 2 league defeats all last season. Their December blip could be put down to the absence of midfield linchpin Fernandinho, who along with goalkeeper Ederson are the players City cannot cope without. That is not to say they are City’s two best players, but when Sergio Aguero is rotated out, he makes way for Gabriel Jesus.
Pep Guardiola’s side has the experience of winning the title; even their one summer recruit Riyad Mahrez won the Premier League with Leicester. However, no team has retained the Premier League title since 2009. City faces the burden of still being alive in both domestic cups, while Liverpool and Spurs have just the Premier and Champions League to contest. As City progress on multiple fronts, the likely outcome is they will find themselves behind in the league and facing a late-season fixture pile up.
Nerves jangle on Merseyside
Liverpool dropping 2 points at West Ham sparked a wave of panic among fans on social media, with some even claiming the title was blown. It was an overreaction from a minority, but it hinted at some nervousness around Anfield.
Manchester United suffered similar problems when trying to end their 26-year wait for a League title. In 1992, with the wait approaching a quarter of a century, United’s title bid blew up with a series of late-season defeats that saw Leeds claim the title with a game to spare, overcoming United’s title jitters proved the biggest challenge of Sir Alex Ferguson’s glittering reign at Old Trafford.
Klopp has appeared techy in recent interviews, and while his criticism of the referee on Monday night was hardly akin to Kevin Keegan’s infamous ‘love it’ rant, Klopp needs to keep a cool head. Liverpool is enjoying their best start to a league season in their history, suffering just 1 league defeat all season. With City breathing down their necks, that doesn’t guarantee the title.
Much like City, Liverpool has strength in-depth, but contain 2 irreplaceable players in goalkeeper Alisson and defensive rock Virgil Van Dijk. The midfield has occasionally wobbled this season, although it may receive a late-season boost by the return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Liverpool’s title wobble has amounted to 2 successive draws, and while they’d expect to get back to winning ways this weekend against Bournemouth, the pressure is only going to become more intense.
Tottenham closes in
The season of Tottenham appeared to be spiraling out of control only 2 weeks ago. Exits from both domestic cups saw Mauricio Pochettino hammered in the press, as Tottenham’s trophy drought looked to continue. However, Tottenham has grounded out back-to-back wins, while City and Liverpool dropped points to haul themselves back into contention.
The form is made more surprising by the injury absence of Harry Kane and Dele Alli. The Spurs were grateful to see forward Son Heung Min return early from the Asian Games to spearhead their attack, while Fernando Llorente has proved an effective makeweight for Kane.
Tottenham remains 5 points adrift of Liverpool and City, but visits both Anfield and the Etihad Stadium. Their record on neither ground is great, but will need to win on both fronts.
Big games ahead
Tottneham visiting Mancester and Liverpool are key for all 3 teams, but Liverpool and City still have to go to Old Trafford to face a revitalized Manchester United. In addition, both still have to host Chelsea. Tottenham has the toughest run-in with away games at City, Liverpool and Chelsea and face local rivals Arsenal at their temporary home of Wembley.
The dominance of City last season was akin to Barcelona and Real Madrid in La Liga, but this season has seen the contenders drop points in unexpected places.
Picture credits: BBC, Evening Standard, Reuters
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