Advantage Liverpool in Premier League Title Race but Manchester City Are Still Ahead of the Pack
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In the end, there was little to separate the two teams. Manchester City and Liverpool both had spells of dominance in Sunday’s meeting at the Etihad Stadium, but a 1-1 draw represented a fair result. Neither of these two teams is sitting at the top of the table right now, and neither was on top of their game at the weekend. Yet despite worthy claims from elsewhere, the most likely scenario this term is that the title will again be won by either Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp’s side.
City and Liverpool have proved too strong for the rest of the league in the last few seasons. In 2017/18, City became the first team in English soccer history to accumulate 100 points, as they finished comfortably clear of second-placed Manchester United. Liverpool were down in fourth that campaign, although they did reach the Champions League final – just as they did again in 2018/19, when they simultaneously pushed City all the way in the title race.
Liverpool amassed 97 points that year, but City edged them out on 98. It was not the most thrilling of championship chases, purely because both teams were too good for the rest of the division. There were precious few twists and turns as the finish line came into sight, as City and Liverpool both refused to drop points. It was a title race of the highest quality, if not the utmost entertainment.
City fell away last time out, allowing Liverpool to win their first crown since 1990 at a canter. The Merseyside club ended the extended campaign 18 points clear at the top, racking up a club-record 99 as City mustered only 81, sufficient for the nd spot but not enough to keep pace with Klopp’s relentless Reds. They will be keen to make amends this time around.
Liverpool Start the Brighter but City Wrestle Back Control of the Game
It is still early days in 2020/21, but the signs so far suggest a tally of almost 100 points will not be necessary to win the league this year. Liverpool have already dropped points in three of their eight games, including a stunning 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa. They have conceded 16 goals in total, with only West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United possessing worst records.
As for City, they are way down in 10th going into the international break. That is partly a result of the fact they have played one game fewer than most Premier League sides, but they have nevertheless won just three of their first seven fixtures. An optimist would point out that City are unbeaten in five; a pessimist would counter that they have triumphed in only two of those encounters.
Liverpool were the better team in the opening quarter on Sunday and deservedly took the lead through a Mohamed Salah penalty. Klopp opted to switch to a 4-2-3-1 formation with Diogo Jota playing alongside Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, and it looked as if the visitors might overwhelm City in the opening stages.
The hosts gradually got a foothold in the game, though, and drew level thanks to a brilliant turn and finish from Gabriel Jesus. They were then afforded a golden opportunity to take the lead, but Kevin De Bruyne – usually so reliable from dead-ball situations – skewed his penalty wide of the post.
- Premier League 2020/21 Title Winner
- Premier League 2020/21 Top Scorer
- Premier League 2020/21 Relegation
Virgil van Dijk Is a Big Loss but City’s Attack Is Also Cause for Concern
A point apiece was a fair outcome, and the safety-first performances seen in the final 30 minutes suggested both teams were happy enough to avoid defeat. City edged the contest on Expected Goals (xG), registering 1.58 to their opponents’ 1.19, but it would be a stretch to argue that they thus deserved all three points.
Indeed, City has not yet sparkled in attack this term. That is a surprise since the general consensus has been that Guardiola’s men might struggle to win the title due to a ropey defense. In fact, City has conceded nine goals so far – a record no team in the division can better – but scored only 10, which ranks as the joint-seventh worst tally. It is not a case of poor finishing, either: City have a cumulative xG of 10.74, which demonstrates they are not creating enough high-quality chances. Sergio Aguero’s return from injury will add additional firepower to the team, but City’s support cast must do more.
Liverpool’s Achilles heel could be their defense. They have only kept one clean sheet in their first eight games and will have to do without Virgil van Dijk for the vast majority of the campaign. There were times on Saturday when City was able to work the ball into dangerous positions between Liverpool’s full-backs and central midfielders, which could become a familiar problem if Klopp persists with the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Chelsea, Tottenham and Even Leicester Will Hope to Compete at the Top
Yet for all that Liverpool and City have been far from flawless thus far, they remain heavy favorites in the title race. DraftKings offer +163 on a Liverpool triumph and +175 on a City success, with Chelsea (+700), Tottenham Hotspur (+800), and Leicester City (+2500) all further back. That is despite all three of those clubs being ahead of Manchester City right now, and Leicester sitting at the summit of the standings.
The Foxes were in a similarly lofty position for much of the first half of the term, only to fall away in the final few months. Brendan Rodgers’ side ultimately finished fifth in 2019/20, and it would be a surprise if they had the quality, consistency, and strength in depth to mount a sustained tilt for the title.
Chelsea and Spurs are better positioned in that regard, but they too may find it difficult to keep pace while balancing the Premier League with their commitments in other competitions. Liverpool and City have been there and done it when it comes to winning titles, and that should work in their favor as the season unfolds.