Liverpool can put Man City — playing Chelsea — under pressure this weekend, a race for the title that has failed to materialise in recent times
Al ready t his weekend t here is something of a twist to the Premier League. For the first time since early November, Liverpool will play before Manchester City, changing the dynamics that have governed the top of the table for the last month.
The fact that Jürgen Klopp’s side have always been under such pressure to follow the champions with a win, to keep the gap at just two points, has been one bigreasonwhyithasfelttheyhavebeen just about “hanging on” — despite havingalreadybeenresponsibleforthe7th best record after 15 games in English history. It has just added that extra element of urgency to every moment of a match where they are not yet in front.
Instead, away to Bournemouth on Saturday afternoon, Liverpool now have the opportunity to at least temporarily move ahead of City and put the pressure back on them prior to their difficult trip to Chelsea.
But the apparent inevitability of City’s form doesn’t mean this is a proper title race just yet. It is way too early for that. It is merely the preliminary stage that hopefully sets up a proper title race, and what would be the first of its kind in half a decade.
This in itself makes it feel different and more narratively diverse than so many of the past few seasons. The very fact we’re at a point where which of the top two plays first becomes relevant is itself refreshing.
It isn’t big-six clashes that now most command the attention, but matches i nvolvi ng t he top two. That’s the case with Chelsea-City this weekend, a fixture that is now most relevant because of the prospect of a title race developing.
Pep Guardiola actually hasn’t been involved in that many title races. His very first season at Barcelona in 200809 saw the threat of a title race brutally killed off by a brilliant 6-2 win away to Real Madrid, setting the pace for most of his career.
Of his nine full seasons so far, six have been dominant processions to victory. There have only been two campaigns where he hasn’t won the league, and only one — 2016-17 against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea — where he hasn’t even been in the race. Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid otherwise pipped his Barca in 2011-12, after Manuel Pellegrini’s Madrid had taken them to the last day in 2009-10.
And it’s that, as well as Klopp’s inabilitytochallengeGuardiolaamidsimilar dynamics with Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, that keeps most of the pressure on Liverpool.
Perhaps the biggest question in this entire season is not just whether the German’s side can sustain a title chal- 6pm 8:30pm 8:30pm 11pm 1:15am
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lenge, but whether they can rise to the extra challenge of sustaining something close to City’s points return.
This is why it is said they are hanging on by their fingertips, even though so many at Anfield bristle at such descriptions. While City have generallymaintainedtheirreturnwitheasy wins,Liverpoolhavemoreoftenhadto grind theirs out.
But does the nature of their wins actually bolster the belief they can put up a challenge? Winning your derby inthelastminuteandrecoveringfrom agoaldownatBurnleytowinresoundingly are the type of developments that foster trust and confidence that then itself start to infuse performances in a virtuous and victorious cycle.
That is what so many title races have come downto, the mentality and intensityofapplicationintheindividualmoments that enhances everything else, that adds up to something bigger.
Liverpool coach Jürgen Klopp