Liverpool did what champions typically do on Sunday afternoon at Craven Cottage by simply getting over line after it temporarily looked like a rare defensive foul up had cost them two precious points in West London. But just seven minutes after conceding, James Milner’s ice cool penalty handed Jurgen Klopp’s a two point lead (having played a game more than Manchester City) at the top of the table heading into the final international break of the season. So while the focus on the title race may temporarily wane during England’s first Euro 2020 qualifying fixtures, many in Liverpool and Manchester will still be obsessed with the question of: Who at this point is more likely to win the premiership this season? A query that we will try to at least partially answer in next 900 words or so.
To do so first let’s look at each team’s domestic run in and see who has the ‘easier’ games of the two, on paper at least. Note: The date of some of city’s games may be slightly different.
Liverpool’s domestic run in:
Spurs (H) Sunday 31st March
Southampton (A) Friday 5th April
Chelsea (H) Sunday 14th April
Cardiff (A) Sunday 21st April
Huddersfield (H) Friday 26th April
Newcastle (A) Saturday 4th May
Wolves (H) Sunday 12th May
Man City’s domestic run in:
Fulham (A) Saturday 30th March
Cardiff (H) Wednesday April 3rd (This looks likely anyway, or could be fitted in later in season)
Palace (A) Sunday 14th April
Spurs (H) Saturday 20th April
Man Utd (A) Wednesday 24th April
Burnley (A) Sunday 28th April
Leicester (H) Saturday 4th May
Brighton (A) Sunday 12th May
Let’s start with the leaders Liverpool’s fixtures and what immediately jumps out when looking at their title run-in:
Hitting the ground running
It’s clear that Jurgen Klopp’s primary task when it comes to his side’s domestic run-in is the extremely tough one of getting his players ready for a huge home clash with Spurs just days after a good number of his players will have flown back from halfway across the world following varying international duties. There is seemingly always a natural drop off of both quality and intensity after international breaks and this is something that Klopp and his coaching staff will have to manage in minute detail in order to potentially heap the pressure on Pep’s City side. As if LIverpool manage to win all three of their games after the international break, two of which are their hardest tests left, then they will be greeted with a much more favourable run in afterwards, with Wolves on the final day looking like their sternest test. However, if they struggle points wise in those first three games after the break versus Spurs, Southampton and Chelsea then they will hand City (who as we will see have much easier games in the same period) the initiative.
Conversely, if Liverpool can go into the weekend of the April 20th/21st holding any sort of lead at all then they in turn would heap the pressure on a City side that will still very possibly be in three competitions (depending on the outcome of their Champions League quarter final with Spurs) and face an extremely tough week in the form of Spurs at home, Manchester United away and Burnley away in the space of just eight days. So as important as all points are in a season, those nine points up for grabs following the international break could, in a psychological sense, make or break Liverpool’s title aspirations. So Klopp will surely pray that none his stars pick up any injuries during international duty and that if they all come back fit that are mentally and physically ready for the huge two weeks ahead of them once they return.
Now let’s look at City’s fixtures and see what we can make of them in terms of clues about obstacles in their respective run in.
The make or break 8.
As mentioned earlier when looking at Pep Guardiola’s side’s remaining fixtures, three games in the space of eight days jumps off the page. Off the back of a second leg of a Champions League quarter final that will likely still have a lot riding on it, City are faced with what many might describe as their own make or break week when it comes to defending their premiership title or not. Less than three days after completing the two legs versus Pochettino’s Tottenham they host them at the Etihad before then having to travel to a place some of might have heard of in the form of Old Trafford just four days afterwards. After that short but no doubt bumpy trip to the other side of Manchester they then must travel to meet Sean Dyche’s Burnley side. All in the space of just over a week.
For many squads, this run of fixtures would simply prove too much and likely something would have to give in the form of an off day for the team but if City can avoid further injuries to key players then one of the best, if not the best, squads in world football could use this kind of run of fixtures to show the world who they really are. So much like the team they are currently just behind in the table, a sequence of three league games will likely define whether a joyous Vincent Kompany will lift that premiership in front of a sea of blue once more or not.
The aforementioned run of games is no doubt when Liverpool fans are hoping that City’s own success works against them in terms of fixture pile up and possible short term burn out. There is also the possibility that City will have to catch up in terms of games and be in a situation where they are something 3-5 points behind Liverpool with a couple games in hand, which of course would heap even pressure on Guardiola’s squad. But as stated before, if there is a team, and more importantly squad, in world football that can balance that brutal run of games in mid to late April then it is City and it would take a very rich or foolish man to bet against them.
So looking at the fixtures who’s more likely to win then?
I’ll have to endure splinters in a sensitive area when it comes to this question as there as just too many variables and possible things that might go right/wrong for both sides that could swing the balance. The first of course is injuries, if key cogs of either teams attacking or defensive machine get injured for any length of time that would be the defining factor in the title race. Especially when it comes to the likes of Sterling, Van Dijk, Aguero and of course any of the three of Liverpool’s renowned attack .
Secondly, when it comes to the title run in even a game like Newcastle away for Liverpool looks a lot tougher than it would be at any other stage of the season, the same goes for City’s away trip to Burnley at the end of April. It’s the cliche of cliches but it will likely come down to who can handle the fixtures AND the pressure better than the other team. Many will infer that City comfortably trump Liverpool in this department as they are the defending champions and have been there and done it before numerous times in recent history. And of course, the pressure of Liverpool not winning the league for nigh on 30 years could effect Liverpool’s players even more than many claim it has already. Though these are all vague assumptions, hypothetically Liverpool’s players, seeing the finish line in sight, could instead thrive on that pressure and go all in for glory. While City could have a little more of an eye on a Champions League trophy that has so far eluded them since the club was brought out by their current owners in 2008.
So clearly, as always in football nothing is clear, and that’s the beauty of it and is what makes fans come back to the same structure of a season, year after year. So after the endless debates across homes, grounds, pubs and radio stations eventually quieten, it will be time to simply enjoy what proves to be one of the most exciting premiership title races ever.
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